Rebecca Wilks

Rebecca Wilks; Photographer, Teacher, Yarnellian, Do-Gooder

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Tuesday, December 6, 2016

They Hold Stories

 Inspiration can come from anywhere, really.

For this project I credit my friend, photographer Lee Zeitelhack.  A couple of months ago he posted images in a private Facebook photography group of his special objects.  

I got thinking that some sentimental things hold stories for me as well.  If photography is about conveying emotion, I hope that images of such things bring out their tales.

Dad has been gone for 29 years.  He was a WWII era navigator in the Army Air Corps, though he was just young enough that he didn’t see any action.  These are his wings.  They made them in sterling then and they have a solidness that speaks to me.  Sometimes I wear them as jewelry.

I was single for a decade or so after divorcing.  Lexie was probably a border collie; I brought her home from downtown Phoenix where she was abandoned as a puppy.  She was my buddy.  If I’d had any idea how difficult she would be, I would have run the other way.  Life’s funny that way.

Mom did all her desk work for thirty or more years with this Sheaffer’s fountain pen.  She used turquoise ink.  Remnants of the ink are still on the nib, which is one of the reasons I’ve not cleaned it.  If a right-handed child used the pen, broken in by left-handed Mom, we had a big unpleasant event at home.

I’ve graduated from lots of things.  Enough said.

When I was in the single digits and still living in Los Angeles, Dad and I had a Sunday morning tradition.  We went to breakfast, just the two of us.  Mom and my sister preferred to sleep in and my brother was away at college by the time I was 6.  At first we went to iHOP, but we had really bad service one morning and he stormed out, with me in tow, never to return.  I was pretty upset at the time, but we revised the tradition and started going to upscale hotels for Sunday breakfast.  I remember playing with the switchboard (yes, big plugs like the movies) at the Beverly Hillcrest and enduring the wrath of the swans in the pond at the Bel Air.  One morning a man visiting from Japan came to our table in the Bel Air Hotel dining room to chat and gave me an embroidered pink giraffe.  There’s no telling why this made such an impression on me, but I continue to enjoy it nearly 50 years later.

In 2006 I had the privilege of traveling in Mongolia with a Buddhist Khambo Lama who was teaching traditional Mongolian Medicine in his monastery. He spoke only limited English.  As he was walking our small group through the museum which would have been his home had he been from the previous generation, he ducked into the little gift shop and bought me this tiny turtle.  His expression was very sincere.  It was on a beaded keychain at the time, and rode around on my camera bag for years.  I don’t know what the significance was, but this was another gift which made an impression on me and which I’ve held on to.

I know, they’re just things, but I love the way they jog my memories.

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Magic Wand

Sunrise, Western Grand Canyon

Bouncing out a dirt road for 49 miles gave me time to think.  I wouldn’t trade this for anything, but if I had a Magic Wand, I might smooth out the drive.

I’ve concluded that there are two kinds of off-roaders.  The first I’ll call “Jeepers.” Their travel is primarily about the challenges of the road.  The more difficult, the better.  The most hardcore don’t mind so much if their vehicle turns over; that’s what the roll bar is for.  There seem to be quite a few of those, judging from the 50,000 people that flood into Moab Utah (population about 6000) each year for Jeep Safari.   I do
admire the skills of the drivers and the capabilities of the vehicles, but this is not for me.  

Lurch before dawn
I belong to the second group commonly called “Overlanders.”  These trips are about the destination.  There’s usually a multi-night component with emphasis on camping in the most beautiful locations.  It’s all about the quiet and isolation; a chance to clear the mental cobwebs.  This mindset is perfectly suited to a landscape photographer. Now that many federal lands are being overrun (perhaps due in part to a very successful “Find Your Park” campaign) and there’s talk of limiting access to the more popular National Parks (read about Arches, Zion, and Grand Canyon), time in the isolated locations is increasingly valuable.
Standing vigil over the Colorado River
The experience is intensified when I’m disconnected from the rest of the world for several days.  That disconnection, in turn, forges a connection with the natural world. I’m learning so much by immersion; about the land, astronomical phenomena, wildlife, botany, and weather. 

Cold weather travel is another strategy for finding solitude.  We love to pack up the camper (it has a heater) and dog, knowing we’ll be reasonably comfortable and alone out there at near-freezing temps.  Snow, if it comes, is a photographic bonus.
Lee's Ferry Sunrise
I’ve illustrated this post with images from last weekend’s (yes, we completely blew off Thanksgiving this year) overland trip to an undisclosed location, with one night on the way home at Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River, which by virtue of being well known is disclosable.

Come to think of it, perhaps I want to use that Magic Wand for something else.  If these drives were easy, maybe everybody would be doing them.  

Thanks for riding along.

More images from this last trip are in the Autumn 2016 Gallery on the website.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coloring Outside the Lines

Yucca Detail, Chiricahua National Monument AZ

What’s the point of a photo workshop, anyway?

There are lots of good answers to that question, but I propose that the opportunity to stretch my limits in a supportive environment is high on the list.

I’m just back from five days shooting in Southern Arizona with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul Gill.  This was a small group outing which was a perk offered as part of their Indiegogo campaign for the second edition of the Wild in Arizona Wildflower Photography Guide.  Four of us came together to plan this trip over a year ago.  Sadly, one could not make it so in the end we were a nimble, simpatico group of five.

We talked about several locations, and I favored this trip based out of Willcox because I’d not worked in Southeastern Arizona before.  As it turned out, we formed a culture of experimentation.  We shared ideas, supported each other, and “Stole Like an Artist.”  

As an aside, I highly recommend Austin Kleon’s book, who’s title I stole to make my point.  See how that works?

Forest Composite, Cave Creek Canyon AZ
As our hike was winding down in Cave Creek Canyon, we started talking about motion blur and multiple exposures.  Some of my compatriots were making these images in camera, but I decided to create the ingredients in the field and put the power of Adobe Photoshop’s Blend Modes to work on them.  The image above this paragraph is the result, and below the two blended shots.  Wild, no?  I think I’d like to go further down this rabbit hole.

By the way, the silly ”bobble head” group shot at the end of this post also arose from that session.

Backlight on the Ranch, Dragoon Mountain Foothills
Another day, in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains, I found myself mostly uninspired until I stumbled on a stream of water overflowing from a cattle tank. The backlight really was golden like this. I got a little creative to play up the little splashes.  This image is composed of 4 exposures stacked in the camera.  Some of you may remember this technique from your film photography days.  Modern digital cameras will stack as many exposures together as you’d like, and will give you an average exposure so it’s delightfully easy.

Mud Cracks, Willcox Playa AZ
Finally, the mud cracks.  The delicious, perfectly formed examples of apparent randomness.  If I understood chaos theory I’d wax poetic about it now.  Lucky for you, I don’t.  Much.  I don’t usually love this sort of image but I do have a bit of a crush on these.  By the way, there’s a more conventional landscape image using the cracks as foreground on the website, with the others in the Autumn 2016 Gallery (new images added at the bottom of the page).

Thanks for peeking in my coloring book.