Chattanoogan: Multi-Facted Tracy Knauss

Monday, February 20, 2006 - by Suzanne Walker
Tracy Knauss
Tracy Knauss
- photo by Suzanne Walker

“Behind every photo is a story,” says Tracy Knauss. A photo of Mr. Knauss is no exception; behind his photo lies the story of a businessman, hang glider, publisher, photographer, artist, historian, genealogist, teacher, magician, husband, father and much more.

In 1975, the Texas native moved to Chattanooga after graduating from Southern Methodist University and Centenary College with a B.S. in business and a B.A. in philosophy. He also received his masters in business from Vanderbilt University.

Mr. Knauss took up hang gliding and this hobby soon led to a career. He joined a club called “Tennessee Tree Toppers” and they flew from a location called “Trash Hill.” Eventually, he bought land on Lookout Mountain and started the Lookout Mountain Flight Park & Training Center.

He said, “It was a tough business. Hang gliders are a different breed of people.” During this time, he lived in his office on Lookout Mountain. Mr. Knauss met his wife through the business and they often would fly tandem.

While beginning his hang gliding business, he also started a magazine called “Glider Rider.” Eventually, his publication became Ultralight Flying! magazine, and he is still the owner. He said the magazine served as the first “buyer’s guide” for hang gliders.

Mr. Knauss' expertise in hang gliding and skills as photographer gave him the opportunity to travel worldwide. In the 1970s, ABC Sports and a Washington, D.C.-based flying association sponsored his travel to El Salvador and the Andean Mountains of Peru for special television documentaries. Mr. Knauss also had the opportunity to teach author/celebrity George Plimpton to hang glide for a national television program.

He was also one of two people selected to photograph the King Ramsees Exhibit in 1988. In 1990, he traveled to St. Petersburg to photograph artifacts of Catherine the Great. By using special techniques, he has also been allowed to photograph official documents found in the National Archives.

In 1994, Mr. Knauss became "the photo doctor." By using “state-of-the-art computer technology” he is able to “enhance and restore old photographs.” In his business located on Bailey Avenue, walls and books of these restored and enhanced photos are on display. The variety of projects include creating photo montages of generations, erasing or adding people from group pictures, colorizing black and white photos and recreating disintegrated century-old photos, just to name a few.

Mr. Knauss is even able to “get rid of silver mirroring damage” in old photos by polarizing light sources and redirecting the light. He said he is the first person he knows of who has been able to successfully repair this type of photo.

Mr. Knauss said he enjoys not only restoring photos but creating “visual essays.” By using maps, wills, deeds, photos and much more, Mr. Knauss is able to produce an essay that “tells a story” that otherwise would “be lost to time.” For his own family, he has compiled “A Collection of Visual Essays about the Knauss Family” that traces his genealogy and provides historical snippets about his ancestors. Mr. Knauss said he loves to trace genealogies.

“There is more to it than just using a computer to restore photos. I’m an artist,” he said.

Mr. Knauss said he has been asked to enhance eight different baby pictures for beautiful baby contests. All eight babies have been first place winners, he said.

Additionally, Mr. Knauss frequently makes presentations in schools on various topics including “ancient Egypt, the USSR, astronomy, time capsules and the Signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

When he was nine, he began collecting “articles on the American and Soviet space programs.” Recently, he said his collection earned recognition from Neil Armstrong and Werner von Braun; they called his collection “one of the finest private space libraries in the world.”

Through his photography and research, stories from history are kept alive. In 1986, “to help the Chattanooga community celebrate the arrival of Halley’s Comet, he put together a time capsule with hundreds of items of local interest. The capsule is locked in a SunTrust Bank vault where it will be secured until July 28, 2061 when the comet next passes nearest to the sun. A five-foot wall display at the Challenger Center reminds children about the time capsule and instructions for its opening.”

Mr. Knauss has been married to Donna Mae Guess since 1986. They have two children, Megan, 17, and Travis, 15. Megan and Travis both attend Baylor School.

Some of his hobbies include “astro-photography, sleight-of-hand magic, computer graphics, family genealogy and collecting documents signed by the 56 signers of the Declaration of Independence.”

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