Sunrise light on a grove of tufa towers emerging from the water of Mono Lake with soft green and dusty-red wild grasses in the foreground, Canada geese in the shallow water with reflections of the rocky towers, and desert hills in the distance.

We miss you, Rick Knepp

Last week Mono Lake lost a dedicated admirer and tireless advocate with the passing of photographer Richard Knepp.

Mono Lake advocate and admirer Richard Knepp passed away this week. Photo courtesy of Barbara Hartford.

Rick fell in love with Mono Lake and began working for the Mono Lake Committee in 1992, helped the Committee through the renovation of the Information Center & Bookstore in 1993, worked to elevate the Mono Lake Calendar, and was the voice in the popular Mono Lake Story slideshow, but he is probably best known as a photography field seminar instructor. Rick’s photography students would follow him anywhere—from the icy shores of Mono Lake for sub-zero-degree sunrises, to the rocky waterfall embankments along Mono’s tributary streams, into the abandoned buildings at Bodie State Historical Park, and up to the Jeffrey pine forest shrouded in poconip fog.

Rick was a part of the Committee bookstore remodel in the early 1990s. MLC archive photo.
Greg Reis and Rick Knepp prepare to reopen the bookstore doors after the 1993 remodel. MLC archive photo.

Rick was well known as an exceptional photography instructor—offering countless students his extensive technical knowledge of photography as well as a supportive atmosphere in which to develop their artistic aesthetic. He had a dedicated following of photography students—regularly filling his bi-annual seminars exploring the Mono Basin. He was not shy about his love of the light, the seasons, and the environmental success story at Mono Lake, and his passion for Mono Lake was contagious.

Rick was known and loved for his 20 years of leading photography workshops at Mono Lake. Photo by Morgan Lindsay.

The Mono Lake Committee staff will miss hearing Rick’s warm baritone voice coming through the office walls on his frequent visits, and his giddy excitement at getting out to catch that perfect sunrise. Rick inspired and connected hundreds of photographers to the magic of Mono Lake. He was able to teach photography and tell a story at the same time—reminding everyone that the beauty of Mono Lake was tied to protection and restoration. Rick was also a mentor, and he inspired countless students to see the world with sharper vision. After 20 years of instruction, visits, and warm friendship, we miss him dearly.

Rick with his ubiquitous tripod at South Tufa in 1993. Photo by Bob Schlichting.

Our hearts go out to Rick’s immediate and extended family. Rick’s legacy will live on through his memory and his own, exquisite, photographs of Mono Lake.

"Negit Island and Lifting Poconip, Mono Lake." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Tufa and Wild Barley, Mono Lake." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Marina Winter, Mono Lake." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Black Point and Clouds, Mono Lake." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Lundy Canyon Trees, Eastern Sierra." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Pine and Poconip, Eastern Sierra." Photo by Rick Knepp.
"Winter Lake, Mono Lake." Photo by Rick Knepp.


  1. Having known Rick for well over twenty years I was deeply saddened with the news of his passing. We spent many hours working on prints in the darkroom, chasing light with our cameras, riding along dusty roads in the Great Basin. I will miss sharing stories, laughter, smiles, and that wonderful booming voice. I will miss you buddy! It was an honor knowing you. Condolences to Rick’s family and friends…

  2. We lost an artist, a friend, a teacher and mentor, and most of all, a wonderful person… Rick was the one who first opened my eyes for the beauty of the Mono Lake Basin, through his winter workshops. I will forever remember his enthusiasm for dramatic sunsets or deep freeze poconips, his gentle and supportive approach to teaching, and his wonderful sense of humor! Along with the many pre-dawn shooting sessions, which he always managed to turn into fun outings despite the bitter cold.
    It was a privilege to know you, Rick. You will be missed….

  3. I met Rick on a Mono Lake in the Winter workshop a few years ago and really enjoyed his warmth, knowledge and love of Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierras. I am truly saddened to hear of his passing. The world has lost a great photographer and wilderness advocate. My thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.

  4. Rick was a friend, photographic coach, and an outstanding photographer. I will miss the conversations about anything that was on our minds (both photographic and non-photographic). I was fortunate to have taken several of his workshops, and work with him in the darkroom at Foothill College. I always looked forward to herring his stories and insights. He will be missed greatly.

  5. My friends would ask me “Why would anyone go to Mono Lake in the middle of winter to freeze while taking photographs?”. I might have asked myself that same question when I first signed up for Rick’s “The Forgotten Season” Workshop. The answer becomes obvious to anyone who has taken his class. No one freezes because Rick’s tremendous enthusiasm warms both the soul and the hands. He was able to coax his students out of their warm motel beds at 5 AM to enjoy a glorious Mono Lake Sunrise. Even if the sunrise didn’t work we shared his enthusiasm for a big breakfast. His encouragement for photography was a trademark of his teaching skill that I experienced as I followed Rick into the Southwest, Death Valley, Point Arena and Big Sur. He was a wonderful teacher that I miss very much.

  6. My son and I took a fall photography class from Rick years ago at Mono Lake. I received his annual letter for years and remember last years letter. I am so sorry to hear that he is no longer with us. He was an outstanding photographer. His photographs were so finely crafted and serene. Seeing one of his photographs would make me stop in my tracks so I could pore over it to take in the fine detail , the wonderful composition and feel the season and the air when it was taken. I will miss him and his art very much.

  7. Rick was the only man that could get me up at 5:30am to go out in freezing weather to photograph dawn. His enthusiasm was contagious and his love of Mono Lake and the Eastern Sierras huge. He inspired me to take better scenic photography, for which I will always be grateful. Most of all, I will miss his warm humor and positive attitude. Mono Lake winter environs will not be quite the same without him. You will be missed Rick.

  8. Rick was a huge part of my introduction to the Mono Basin. My first day working for the Mono Lake Committee was spent with Rick (in 1995, photo caption above is incorrect) when he took Laura Walker (bookstore volunteer and later manager) and me on a driving tour of the Mono Basin. I fondly remember the Fourth of July parties at his house(s) when he lived in Bridgeport and then Crowley. His kind, generous, and good-natured spirit, as well as his booming voice, hearty laugh, and needless to say his incredible photography, will be missed.

  9. Rick and I were indirectly related – his ex-wife, Cindy, is my sister-in-law.

    Our connections didn’t stop there. We shared a deep fondness for Mono Lake, its’ Basin, and the Eastern Sierra. We were both well acquainted with photography, as well as being instructors.

    Across the decades, we had many good conversations and times. In MLC’s store, along the shores of Mono’s waters, at a little league portrait photo session (I was shooting groups, Doug was on one of the teams, Rich was there with Doug), in Livermore (when he lived there, before his time in Lee Vining, while a DJ on radio station KKIQ), in southern Oregon.

    I enjoyed his friendship, and his photography. His darkroom days are now behind him.