Rebecca Wilks

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

Monday, June 18, 2018

Assignment: Boat-Floaters

Autumn In Zion National Park

Nearly two months ago, at the 15th Annual and Final Moab Photo Symposium, I had the pleasure of hearing a talk form Cole Thompson.  It having been a couple of months and given that I've slept since then I can't remember specifically what he said to spark it, but I gave myself an assignment.

I was to wade through my work, identifying those images that had particular impact for me.  I intended this to be a quiet little exercise that I would keep to myself, yet here I am blogging about it. I think the results are interesting and if you're also an artist, you might enjoy doing this too.

My rules stipulated first that I couldn't choose iconic "postcard scenes", but rather things that were original. That means no sweeping views of Cape Royal, Zabriskie Point, or Mesa Arch. Yes, the interpretation of this rule would need to be somewhat arbitrary but it's my game, so no matter. Second, they were to be images that bring up emotion for me.  Of course I can't really know what speaks to others and anyway one could argue that the reaction of others is secondary.

In the words of Joan Jett, "You have to just do what you love and hope other people love it too."

Unexpectedly, I discovered some patterns.  There are types of images that are more likely to float my boat.  I thought I might share a few of those with you.
Acadia National Park

Colorado; San Juan Mountains

I knew that I have been gravitating toward minimalist compositions, but was surprised to find that I especially like them with color.  The composition in these being spare, I appreciate the way color becomes the subject.

Kofa NWR
Lake Powell
 No surprise, I continue to have a love affair with backlight.  It can be tricky to shoot, but the rewards are astounding.

Cape Final, Grand Canyon
San Clemente, CA

I also find that I adore shallow depth-of-field images which reduce the background to vague context and feel, to me, to be dreamy and maybe a little dangerous.

Lake Powell

Death Valley National Park

I found several images which were, again minimal, and all about lines.  They were in slot canyons, badlands, and sand dunes. They have a certain dreamy quality that moves me.
Lunar Eclipse, Kofa NWR

Full Moon Rise, Grand Canyon

I was surprised to see how much I've enjoyed moon - drama; Lunar and solar eclipses and just plain cool moon shots.  There is, indeed, magic out there.
Brown Bear, Katmai National Park

Girl, La Hoya Guatemala

Some images which caught my fancy were simply portraits which hold intensity, whether the subject was wildlife, or human.


The remains of 19 Granite Mountain Hotshots, between Phoenix and Prescott AZ
Finally, there were images of striking, emotional moments like a visit from wild dolphins, an erupting Guatemalan volcano, and the aftermath of the Yarnell Hill Fire.  These, I suspect might not translate well to others, but I treasure them regardless.

Thanks for riding along.  If you're an artist, I encourage you to try this experiment yourself.  I'd love to hear what you learn!

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

You were doing so well for a while there.

Marble View Point, looking toward Saddle Mountain
I heard an instructor sarcastically say those very words to a workshop participant during her image critique. They say I lack tact.

I’ve been blessed with some successful photographic road trips recently, whether I define success by the quality of my work or simply, in the style of Guy Tal, as an opportunity to connect with nature in an enjoyable way. I HAD been doing well.

I was a bit behind the eight ball on this trip for a couple of reasons.  First, my two North Rim Grand Canyon Ranger friends are not there this season.  I'd become accustomed to seeing one or both during my (generally) monthly trips there, perhaps for dinner and perhaps to park in a driveway so I didn't have to go back into the forest to find a camp spot after an evening activity.  I'm so grateful to have had the opportunity over the years, and I do understand that change is inevitable.  Still, I missed those evenings.

I'm not much of a celebrity-watcher, but for some reason Tony Bourdain's suicide last week did get to me.  We are poorer for the loss of the cultural bridges he created.  A friend posted this quote from him on Facebook, which felt particularly relevant as I was contemplating his death and seems a bit prophetic looking back:

"As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life — and travel — leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks — on your body or on your heart — are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt."

No real harm occurred last weekend.  Mostly the damage was in the form of ego bruises, disappointment, and frustration.
Sunrise & Navajo Mountain, Marble View Point
Last Autumn, I'd found a lovely unnamed point near a favorite camping spot.  I'd hiked there through dense (read: bushwhacking) forest with the help of a GPS phone app and thought I'd like to be there for sunrise or sunset.  I didn't want to do that slog in the dark, though, so I loaded my backpack with the essentials and headed out to spend the night out there in a tent.  The GPS app didn't work on my new phone.  I slogged around in the forest collecting bloody stab wounds and looking for the viewpoint.  Eventually I decided upon a turn-around time and reached it without finding the spot.  I limped back to camp with my 35-pound pack, bruises on my hip bones and ego.  I like to think of myself as capable in these sorts of situations, but I blew this one for sure.  Time, beer, and a conversation with my sweet sister were effective first aid, and the next morning's photography (above) was lovely right where I was.

Wind-dwarfed Indian Paintbrush
For the third of four planned nights, I moved to one of my new favorite viewpoints and was joined by my nemesis, high wind.  I had a plan to photograph the rising crescent moon at 3:30 AM, but that didn't work out so well either.  The wind woke me up around 11:30 and I battled denial, sleep evading me. At 2:00 AM I scrapped the plan, thinking that I needed some sleep, and that standing on the edge of a cliff in that gale would be dangerous at least to my equipment and perhaps to me as well.  I packed up at that tender hour and retreated, tail between my legs, about 5 miles into the forest where the trees blocked the wind enough that I could rest.

That morning I saw the forecast, for winds increasing for the next 24 hours.  The final defeat; I rode home a day early.

Maybe I'm over-dramatizing.  I could reframe all three of these decisions as good judgement calls, as well as an opportunity to take the edge off my ego a bit and be willing to fail.

Of course, there were lovely moments as well; macro walks, hammock time, and wildlife sightings.  There were lots of hummingbirds this year, and I saw some grouse along with the more common mule deer, ravens, and red-tailed hawks.

I remain grateful for the opportunity to take these trips; for the connection with nature, the adventure, and the transformation.  The eight-year-old in me admits that I'd also like a guarantee that all will go well.

After all, I was doing so well for a while there.
More images from this trip are in the Summer 2018 Gallery on the website.