Exotic experience: Photographer shares love of travel through art exhibition

The trip on an African safari was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to see some of the world’s most majestic animals up close.

Heather Knight didn’t realize quite how close they would get.

The Greenwood Community High School graduate was able to see exotic wildlife from open-air vehicles, climbed Mt. Kilimanjaro and took safaris across the savanna. But it was an overly curious elephant that made the most lasting impression.

“We were in a Jeep, where you can get literally 10 feet away from these animals,” she said. “There was actually an elephant who put its trunk in our Jeep,” she said. “It was amazing.”

Knight has harnessed her love of travel to serve as inspiration for her artwork. The photographer and watercolor painter has documented her vast travels to places such as Tanzania, Kenya, Rwanda, the United Kingdom, France, Mexico and the Caribbean in her work.

Struck by the beauty of a mountain lake, a serene harbor town or a sun-dappled meadow, Knight has tried to help viewers live vicariously through her own experiences.

“Not a lot of people have the opportunity to travel. I want to give people the sense that they could really be there, what they could see, without having to actually go to that country,” she said.

Knight is the featured artist this month as the Southside Art League’s Off Broadway Gallery. Her photographs and paintings will hang in the gallery through May 28.

From the time she was a child, Knight has always had an interest in art and creativity. She used to love to doodle and color, spending hours making pictures and drawings.

But her artistic passion took off in high school. She needed courses to fill in her course schedule, so ended up taking a variety of art classes. The one that stuck with her was a photography class.

“I fell in love with it. It was a dark-room setting, where we developed our own negatives and our own photos,” she said. “It really kind of evolved from high school.”

Knight’s interest in photography matched with her desire to travel. While on her trips around the world, she would capture the local landscapes, wildlife and settings that she found herself in.

Those experiences only supercharged her love for photography. Africa in particular was the pinnacle of her travels.

“The wildlife and the scenery is so completely different from anything I’ve ever seen,” she said.

While traveling, either abroad or closer to central Indiana, Knight is hyper-aware of potentially great photographs. She is drawn to natural light and natural settings, capturing candid shots of the world around her.

“Just going to a park and getting that natural sunlight. If there are people there, I don’t want them posed, just acting like they normally would,” she said.

Watercolor painting is a new endeavor for Knight. She had never tried painting until deciding on a whim to take a watercolor class about six years ago.

She found a course taught to Bev Mathis, an instructor with the Southside Art League. She fell in love.

Again, Knight is drawn to the natural world — particularly one certain animal.

“Deer. For some reason, I paint a lot of deer,” she said.

Both photographs and watercolors will be featured in the Southside Art League exhibition. The main focus will be the environment and her travels, using both mediums to tell the stories of her experiences.

“Hopefully, they get a sense of what that place would really be like, really being able to connect by seeing a photograph and being able to imagine where it is,” she said.