Leonard Knight of Salvation Mountain

“I really love it here. I think the freedom of this place is just so beautiful.
To me, I wouldn’t move for $10 million, unless I had to.
So I’m contented here in the desert, and I’m living where I want to live.
And I think good gets better.
And I think those great big tanks there were the sewer plant for the Marine base in World War II”

Some may recognize the words of Leonard Knight from the movie Into The Wild where Chris and Tracy take a walk to Salvation Mountain and meet him. In March I had the pleasure of taking my own walk to Salvation Mountain and meet the legend.

Salvation Mountain -blog

Leonard Knight

Leonard Knight is a joy and an inspiration, just as passionate and quirky in real life as on screen. I spoke with him for a while and his passion for his Salvation Mountain and for his God are very infectious. His work, life, passion and mission is a never ending process of creating Salvation Mountain as a tribute to his God. It’s really just a lot of paint on a mountain built of everything from clay to car doors and telephone poles but his dedication and passion lifts it to something special.

It was a slow hot day with few visitors, Leonard tells of days with hundreds of people. The desert sun was scorching, the clouds were spectacular and the wind a warm companion. The air tasted hot and dusty as I ate my lunch sandwich sitting on top of Salvation. Leonard then took me on a tour and gave me a handful of postcards telling me to “spread the love in Denmark, tell people about my work, about love and my mountain”. He is a weathered old desert dweller who has seen his fair share of the desert sun. Here’s my portrait of Leonard and part of his desert home.

Leonard Knight - blog

Leonards Home - blog

Slab City

Salvation mountain resides at Slab City, also of Into The Wild fame. Slab City is just a bunch of caravans out in the desert on concrete slabs, leftovers from a Marine base. There is not much to it but I can see what Leonard mean by stating”the freedom of this place is so beautiful”. I was there on a Thursday and wish I had stayed for the Friday outdoor concert as seen in the movie. With a little more guts for shooting people I would have liked to do portraits of the characters living here. Instead, some awesome clouds offered the chance of a wide Slab City panorama:

Slab City pano - blog

Into The Wild

into_the_wild_movie_poster I tend to get somewhat obsessive about my…obsessions one could say. I have over the past two years watched the beautiful movie Into The Wild twenty times, read the moving book ten times and listened to the great Eddie Vedder and Michael Brook soundtracks a million times over. Christopher McCandless’ quest, passion and great adventure somewhat mirrors mine and my feelings, and he completely changed my life post-mortem.

Chris, his story, the book, the movie, the soundtrack still means very much to me and there is great strength, comfort and inspiration for me in passionate people like Chris and Leonard. Attempting to slightly moderate my spectacularism (Douglas Coupland’s word for loving extreme situations) I am now attempting to create and live my nomad story, not a copy of the Alexander Supertramp story.  Still, I had to visit Slab City and Salvation Mountain when I passed by the Salton Sea back in March. Some elements and arcs of a story came together for me and it was special for me, somewhat moving to be standing there. As if several versions of me caught up and merged into one.

– ∞ –

Tech: All images including the portrait shot using my Canon 17-40mm L lens, it does actually work as a portrait lens in a pinch and my copy is razor sharp (except for the corners of course). The panorama is stitched. All images have received my ‘harsh desert’ Photoshop process but they needed very little, the conditions here are already very harsh desert!

18 Comments on “Leonard Knight of Salvation Mountain”

  1. Hi Flemming,

    A great post; you write so well. I love that portrait of Leonard Knight with his work in the background; very compelling!

    1. Hi Zane, thank you! I like the portrait as well, he has such an interesting weathered face.

      I am happy you like my writing. It does trouble me at times to find the words but I have discovered that writing this blog is not only fun but great stress relief and my outlet.

  2. You met Leonard Knight! Omg! And in another omg moment, i went to the library about an hour ago and picked up Into The Wild. Talk about strange occurances. The Force reaches far!

    Another perspective of Slab City from Claire Martin – she was a scholarship winner for the Magnum Workshops and has recently won the Inge Morath award. I am very in awe of her: http://lightjourneys.net.au/artists/claire-martin

    1. Yes I met Leonard and it was slightly surreal. Be careful with that potent book, not to be handled lightly 🙂

      Very nice work from Claire. I wish I had had the guts to try and shoot portraits like that at Slab City. Oh how hard it is to capture humans like that.

  3. Flemming,

    When I watched the movie 'Into the Wild' I had this raw, gnawing feeling throughout the movie. I feel like I met him on my travels. I was in some of the same places as him during the time period so it may be possible. I will never know.

    1. Hi Scott, that's a funny coincidence to think of, did you read the book? As it goes into quite a lot more detail about the dates etc. and the movie has moved some of the scenes around for the sake of a better narrative.

      1. It was more like one of those feelings you get that you can't explain. More intense than most. Nothing that I could point to a specific place. I will have to get the book to see if the feeling returns.

  4. What they should've done with 'Into the Wild' was cut the last 15 minutes of it.

    I was so inspired to go do something whilst watching it, then when the ending came I wanted to eat those berries too.

    1. Heh, well I guess I see what you mean but that is what happened. Chris unfortunately died of starvation (possibly or possibly not accelerated by eating a toxic plant, that is a Krakauer theory). He still survived more than 100 days in the wild, an amazing feat.

  5. great work Flembot.
    i'm a fan of that movie, although not to the same extent as you haha. i've only watched it a handful of times.

    I agree with you totally Tom- the end has always been one that kind of left me flat. always gone "why did they have to end it like that!"

    funny thing is Flem, that despite watching it a few times, I didn't remember this desert parts. not I think about it I remember, but what stuck with me and had me in awe was the Alaskan parts. I read the book way back in school and was so glad when it came on my tv one day quite by chance! you're a man of the desert and i'm a man of the mountains haha. so much so I have obviously tuned out during the deserts sorry 😛

    love the desert home image, just awesome! 🙂

    1. Hi Stephen. "Why did they have to end it like that"….eh mate, because that's what happened. That is unfortunately exactly what happened. You are aware it's a real story, right????? 🙂 Of course you are, you read the book.

      Worst thing they could have done would be to stick a Hollywood ending on it. No way Sean Penn would do that anyway nor would the McCandless family allow it (they were very involved in the making of the movie).

      Unfortunately Chris' fantastic adventure ended in his death. He did overestimate his abilities by going into the Alaskan wilderness without a map. He wasn't actually that far from civilisation but with no map, he might as well have been on the moon. It was his way of creating a true wilderness – throw away the map. His death is sad and unfortunate, such a shame his spirited adventured ended that way. But I feel it does not take away from his spirit and the incredibly uplifting journey he went on, how he changed the life of everyone he met, how he gave everything up for ultimate freedom and a simple life on the road under the heels of no one.

      How can you tune out during all those desert scenes with Kristen Stewart? 🙂

      I am so much in awe of those Alaskan scenes as well mate, I must go there as well someday despite what looks like terribly cold conditions!

  6. quickest reply ever Flem! 😛 haha.
    I just came back on to give you another "omg" moment as Charlene put it- no more then 5min after I typed that comment, I was watching the music chanel and hey- In the Wild videoclip came on haha. think it was Pearl Jam or someone- missed the name though.

    yeah I know it was based on a real life story which is why they had the ending. and yeah I agree, it's good they didn't sweeten it up hollywood style lol. I just always end up sitting here goin "damn" 🙁 , but at the same time as you pointed out it still is uplifting about his adventure, and tells you how quickly it can end too. so make the most of it when you have the chance.

    and i'm not a Kristen Stewart fan hey. Rachel McAdams (wedding crashers), Megan Fox and of course Scarlett Johanson are my gals Flem bot 😀 then a few Ozzie gals who stick it to the rest of the world! haha.

    anyway they are doing some movie thing on the channel at the moment and have kicked onto Aerosmith…. so think it's time I head to bed lol. *walks off screaming "I don't wana close MY EYES!"* haha

    1. Stephen please go crazy someplace else…we're all stocked up here! 🙂 Just kidding, all craziness welcome.

      Soundtrack is Eddie Vedder, his first solo album. That is freaky how I seem to have brought on Into The Wild occurrences in several places. 'Omg' moments…Chris actually goes to oh-my-god-hotsprings near Salton Sea!

      I have only seen Kristen Stewart in one movie, Into The Wild, but she's good in that!

      1. sorry- we have to be all proper while in attendance to Flems Book Club do we?? stand aside Opera! haha 😛

        yeah i actually googled it last night as it was bugging me, and saw it was Eddie Vedder- knew it had the Pearl Jam sound 🙂

        ah ok, i thought you were going to tell us you're a big twilight fan or something……. if you had then all respect would be lost 😛 haha

        1. Haha, properness, never, and who is Opera? 🙂

          No, it's just such a funny Jack quote from As Good As It Gets but I got it wrong, dummy me. It is "go sell crazy someplace else, we're all stocked up here". Meaning I am plenty crazy myself mate 🙂

          If I was a Twilight fan, then yes, all respect down the drain! I'm not. Never seen them. Don't much want to.

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