Rebecca Wilks

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

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Some Kind of Magic

Middle School Girls, Colegio Preuniversitario, Quetzaltenango, Guatemala

Bumping down a dirt road on a COED trip, toward a primary school in Chimazat, Guatemala, one of the other Rotarians in the vehicle asked me how I got into photography.

I told her that I’d started with 35mm Black and White work as a teenager, got distracted in College, and picked it up again with the new wave of digital cameras in the late 1990s.

My first digital camera was made by Sony.  They called it the Mavica.  It was a 0.6 megapixel wonder which stored photos on a 3.5” floppy (1.44 MB).  It was some kind of magic.  No film, no restraint.

Of course, the resolution was rather low, but it was my gateway drug.

Student, Las Rosas School, Chitay, Guatemala
The kids in rural Guatemala are getting increasingly savvy to technology. Mostly, that’s because mobile phones are ubiquitous; I’ve heard that there are twice as many mobiles as people there.  Land lines just never got out to the tiny villages so they skipped that step.  

Sweet Goodbyes, El Yalu Primary School, Sumpango, Guatemala
Even so, one of the best ways to engage shy kids there is to take their picture (this works best with a small group of friends) and show it to them on the camera LCD.   Judging from their reactions, you’d think it was, in fact, magic.  The second shot is always better.

Volcan Fuego erupting with star trails
I also had a chance to photograph the active volcano called Fuego at night.  After two hours waiting, our guide urged patience.  He was right because we did eventually see one spectacular eruption.  Night photography requires long exposures, among other things, so I only got one chance at this 25 second shot.  Afterward it was all smoke.  Looking at the LCD afterward I felt the same magic as those first Mavica shots.

It’s my joy to invoke this magic whenever I can and my hope that it serves as an inspiration.

Everyone can't be happy, El Yalu Primary School, Sumpango, Guatemala

Thursday, January 26, 2017

The Memory of Water

Badlands, Death Valley
 Sometimes, traveling in Death Valley National Park, a phrase comes into my head, “the memory of water.”  The better part of a year can go by without significant precipitation.  The average yearly rainfall in the Furnace Creek area is less than 2 inches.  Wherever I look, though, is desiccated evidence of its effects; slot canyons, eroded washes, salt polygons and cracked mud flats.

I’ve even complained about endless stretches of days without photogenic clouds in the sky.

Predawn Earth Shadow, Cottonball Basin, Death Valley
This last trip, it rained.  And rained. I was camping with friends and we had about 1 ½ days of lovely weather.  There were also two full days of rain with the kind of socked-in overcast that sucks the color and texture right out of the landscape. Normally, I’d hit the canyons and shoot details there.  I’m a desert girl, though, and I just can’t do that when there’s a flash flood risk.  Even on clear days, I find myself looking for the nearest escape route in such places.

Storm Over Mosaic Canyon, Death Valley
Napping, reading, cleaning the camper, and working on the computer is good for a half day, but by then I was antsy; wandering (sloshing) around Stovepipe Wells in my rain gear. Here I heard the 20-something explaining to his dad about how he hydroplaned and totaled the car and watched ambulances screaming west toward snow-covered passes. There was one image opportunity, of the storm breaking up over Mosaic Canyon.  Lovely, but perhaps not a full day’s work.

Water.  Lots of water in real time.

Meanwhile my photo friends are making dazzling images in the snow at the Grand Canyon and Watson Lake (Prescott).

I remind myself of the privilege of spending time in this spectacular park.  It heals me, and it’s showing me an unusual face.

Sunrise at Badwater, Death Valley
Violent winds woke me at 1:00 AM on my last day.  I scrambled to bring down the camper top and ran around in my sheep jammies closing the external clips so it would stay down in the gale.  The camper doesn’t move nearly as much in the wind this way, and I got back to sleep on the dinette bed just fine.  We scooted over to Badwater Basin that morning.  Hoping for reflected color in the puddles among the salt polygons kept us slogging against the wind, out a mile and a half or so to the relatively undisturbed parts of the basin.  I might not see these rare conditions again; standing water, colorful clouds, and snow on the Panamint Mountains to the west.

These things are tough to predict, but perhaps we’ll have another impressive bloom this spring, thanks to all this rain, and the memory of water.

More images from this trip are in the Winter2016-17 Gallery on the website.

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Redneck Camping

Sunrise on the Lower Colorado River Backwater, Arizona

I have a love-hate relationship with BLM (Bureau of Land Management) lands.  I love the opportunities for dispersed camping and the dog-friendliness.  We have so much federal land in Arizona, and to me it looks like so many more places to explore.

On the other hand, lots of these areas ("resources" in fedspeak) have been overtaken by what I call redneck use.  I had that sense in the recently established Agua Fria National Monument north of us and in areas east of the Phoenix Metropolitan center.

I squeezed in a couple of nights with my friend Maria Langer last week in the BLM area south of Interstate 10 at Ehrenberg.  We were camped adjacent to the Colorado River and some lovely backwater areas.  The coyote and owl songs were delightful and the smell of the river brings back memories of the Grand Canyon's inner gorge.

Sunrise on the Lower Colorado River Backwater, Arizona
The sunrise on the last morning was breathtaking.

Sounds good, doesn't it?  Unfortunately I awoke from a nap to find someone camping too close to us really, for proper camping etiquette.  He was running his generator.  I asked him not to and he seemed amenable but he was gone when I got back from my evening shoot.  I don't feel too badly; he had lots of other spots to choose from.

The Damage.  Maria Langer Photos
In addition to noise, there's a shocking amount of trash.  Maria includes clean-up in her stay there, bless her, but it's overwhelming.  As if that weren't enough, the dead-end road near us had barriers to prevent folks from going nose-down into the inlet.  Some genius had decided to push or pull these out of the ground, with their monster truck no doubt.  Some other mental giants (or maybe the same bud light dudes) had deposited a heap of fireworks leavings, perhaps for their redneck New Year’s Eve.

ATV Tracks
Finally, there are ATV tracks through the riparian grasses all around the backwater behind our camp.  Really, some judgement is required when driving these vehicles in wild lands.

 I understand that BLM, like the Park Service, is frightfully understaffed.  They couldn't possibly stay on top of all of this.  I wonder sometimes whether they've just given up on some of these overused areas, figuring that they'll never recover.  I’m saddened by the loss.

First Light, Lower Colorado River Backwater, AZ
I imagine I'll be back, with a kayak perhaps, and a whole lot of trash bags.

More form the trip are in the Winter 2016-17 Gallery on the website.