Rebecca Wilks

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

Friday, June 14, 2024

The Greens of Summers

Aerial of sunrise over Marble Canyon, Arizona

I do make an effort, in general, to be a bit thoughtful in these posts but I’m not so much in that headspace today.

That being said, my first trip to the North Kaibab Forest this season and first solo there (not counting Gypsy the wonder dog) in three was delightful and rather photogenic.  So, rather than wax philosophical, I’ll show some pretty pictures, comment a bit, and leave it at that.


Young neon ferns and aspens, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

Early June is bright green, mostly, with just a smattering of early flowers. The aspens are day-glow and the ferns are just toddlers. Once the monsoon rains set in, I’ll be back for flowers and sky drama. 

Aerial of camp

It turns out that there was enough moisture, oddly, for a plague of mosquitos.  Thank goodness for the bug screens on the van door and for DEET.
Gypsy basks in sunrise, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

My traveling companion’s needs are few; basic life support and the chance to run.  In large circles.  Very fast. I think the crazy running dreams that I love so much happen when she’s reliving her day.  As she gets older, she requires less supervision and so makes a better photography companion.  My husband says she’s learning to do the same when he fishes. 

My Favorite Meadow, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

I have a favorite meadow (doesn’t everyone?).  Two of the four nights we camped nearby and made the hike in the mornings and afternoons. 

Lichen on an aspen trunk


Dew on the phlox flowers

In between,  I indulged in the meditation I call a macro walk.  I carry just the camera with my close focus lens.  No bag, no tripod.  I find the streamlined process is more creative and less structured.  Don’t let me fool you, though, these camping trips are not all work.  There are naps, and lots of reading.  I actually ran out of books. 

Layers, Kaibab National Forest Arizona

I checked out a new camping spot on the last night, and finding it lacking in inspiration, got packed in the dark the next morning and drove around safari style looking for vision on the dirt roads.  The plan worked out well, though adding a couple of hours to my driving time that day may not have been the best idea.

 Thanks for riding along.  As always, there’s more on the website, in the newly minted Summer 2024 Gallery.  I know it’s not officially summer, but in Arizona, even in the mountains, it’s summer.

Sunday, June 2, 2024

In the Footsteps

Eroded Chinle formation and clouds, Ghost Ranch New Mexico

“Living out here has just meant happiness. Sometimes I think I'm half-mad with love for this place.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

I’m just back from an immersive experience in Northern New Mexico. The trip was a photo workshop organized by Colleen Miniuk and called In the Footsteps of Georgia O’Keeffe.” Our group stayed at Ghost Ranch, one of the artist’s New Mexico homes, and experienced landscapes inextricably intertwined with her. We toured the terrain, her other home 15 minutes away in Abiquiu, and the eponymous museum in Santa Fe. We photographed while hiking, while face-to-face with tiny things on the ground, and while enjoying happy hour together at our mesa-top accommodations.

Colleen started each day with a quote. Miss O’Keeffe (who as far as I know was never known as Mrs. Stieglitz) expressed her staunch independence well in words. We admired her while wondering whether we could have been her friends.

For fun I’ll organize this post around some of her words, pairing them with photographs.

Composite tribute to O'Keeffe with skull, moon, and Cerro Pedernal

“The bones seem to cut sharply to the center of something that is keenly alive on the desert even though it is vast and empty and untouchable-- and knows no kindness with all its beauty.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

This composite is a tribute to an originality that must have been shocking 80 years ago. The skull sits at the entry to her Abiquiu home and the mesa on the horizon is Cerro Pedernal. I’d not be exaggerating to say that she was obsessed with this diminutive landform.

Verbena Detail, Ghost Ranch New Mexico

“Nobody sees a flower really; it is so small. We haven't time, and to see takes time - like to have a friend takes time.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

“I hate flowers - I paint them because they're cheaper than models and they don't move.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

“If you take a flower in your hand and really look at it, it's your world for a moment.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Well, in a lifetime of being quoted, I suppose you’d contradict yourself a few times. Flowers, often painted on huge canvases, are, of course, an O’Keeffe trademark. One of the large datura works recently sold for more than $44M. Had there been sacred Datura blooming last week, I would have photographed them, but this verbena will have to do.

Cottonwood detail, Box Canyon, New Mexico

“I wish people were all trees and I think I could enjoy them then.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Yes, Georgia, I’m an antisocial naturalist as well. I enjoyed playing with texture and contrast, rendering trees in grayscale.

Glen Canyon up-view, 2015

O'Keefe's Glen Canyon up-view

“I had to create an equivalent for what I felt about what I was looking at - not copy it.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

At the Santa Fe Museum, I saw this painting of an up-view in Glen Canyon, which was partly drowned in the 1960s by Lake Powell. I’d never seen it before but had a visceral reaction to it. Partly the piece felt emotional, and partly it took me back to the feelings of this moment in 2015, pointing my camera skyward in a side canyon called Cathedral in the Desert.

Intentional camera movement image at sunset, Ghost Ranch New Mexico

“Nothing is less real than realism. Details are confusing. It is only by selection, by elimination, by emphasis, that we get at the real meaning of things.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

These words created a fair amount of discussion in our little group. I was once convinced that realism should be the goal of most nature photography, but experience and mentorship has shown me that there’s an essence of things that can only be shown by moving away from the literal. The quote freed many of us to experiment.

Michelle showing POV, Abiquiu New Mexico

O'Keeffe's Winter Road

This is Michelle, our terrific guide at O’Keeffe’s Abiquiu house. As an example, she’s showing a painting made from just this vantage point. The other image is the artist’s painting titled “Winter Road,” based on these shapes, but inarguably minimal.

Cactus fragment, Ghost Ranch New Mexico

“I often painted fragments of things because it seemed to make my statement as well as or better than the whole could.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Reflection, Box Canyon, Ghost Ranch New Mexico.  Color and shape

“I found I could say things with color and shapes that I couldn't say any other way - things I had no words for.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Early morning in Box Canyon, part of the Carson National Forest just outside Ghost Ranch, was a wonderland of reflections in pools and drops of the creek. This little experiment took my breath away. It still does.

Impossible cloud wave, Ghost Ranch New Mexico

“There is no use trying," said Alice; "one can't believe impossible things."

"I dare say you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half an hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast.” ― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

The week was magical, and was a safe place for experimentation and creativity, which does sometimes require believing in impossible things.

More images are on the website, in the Spring 2024 Gallery.

“Whether you succeed or not is irrelevant, there is no such thing. Making your unknown known is the important thing--and keeping the unknown always beyond you.” -Georgia O’Keeffe

Friday, May 17, 2024

Photography-related blessings


Moonset behind Ship Rock New Mexico

I keep thinking of a conversation the three of us had traveling the Four-Corners last month. Long driving trips are great for conversation, and this one, at least, deserves to see the light of day.

We agreed that photography, in addition to it's obvious benefits, has been a great way to learn about things and meet people that we otherwise would not.  These two great buddies are examples, and I can think of at least a half-dozen treasured friendships honed this way.  You know who you are, dear ones.


Hashknife Pony Express; Passing the mail bag

There’s more.  The first thing that sprung to mind was the Hashknife Pony Express shoot four years ago.  This classic Arizona re-enactment has a rich tradition.  I was invited to join a small group of photographers who would exchange our time and expertise (we gave them permission to use our best images for their publicity) for the opportunity to meet some of the riders and see the spectacle. Sean, Wade, and their horses were great and patient models.  A year or so later, Sean passed, and Wade was able to use some of the images for the memorial and as gifts to the family.


Verkamp's, Grand Canyon

When there’s a winter storm coming to the Grand Canyon, people leave the park in droves.  In fact, this is a great time to get a big walk-in discount on a room at the lovely El Tovar Hotel.  In February 2016, though, I had an opportunity to stay through the storm in the historic apartment above Verkamp’s Visitor Center on the South Rim.  Where do I start?  The view, history, artwork and journals from a long line of GC Artists-in Residence?  I treasured this rare opportunity, and will be forever grateful for my friend, a ranger, who invited me to stay there with her.


A couple of ranch-based photography workshops have allowed me to meet working cowboys and learn a lot about the life.  I’m grateful to Scott Baxter, a legend in ranch photography, for his guidance at X-Diamond Ranch near Springerville AZ, and to Lisa Langell and her team for the fun and varied weekend at Don Donnely’s D-Spur Ranch in Gold Canyon AZ. I’m still not much of a horsewoman, but I sure do appreciate the hard work and the spectacle involved in what the cowboys do.


Navajo Code Talker Kee Etsicitty

Travelling with Leroy DeJolie, legendary photographer of Navajo lands, is always remarkable.  There are so many stories, but the first one that springs to mind is an experience at the Navajo Nation Fair in Window Rock, the Nation’s capital.  Leroy introduced a few of us (lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time) to a World War 2 code talker named Kee Etsicitty.   He was kind enough to sign my code talker book (by Kenji Kawana, who Leroy also introduced us to, and who also signed the book) and Hosteen Etsicitty allowed my friend to record a short video as he told stories about the war. 


The Fallen, Yarnell Hill Fire

In July 2013, about a week after the devastating and deadly Yarnell Hill Fire, I staked out a spot on the route the 19 hearses took from Phoenix to Prescott.  I showed up early, they were late, and it was July in the desert.  The photo went viral, and I had a chance to meet and make prints for a couple of the folks driving in the procession.  The experience was powerful and tragic.


 Street market, Tecpan Guatemala

Regular readers know that I have strong ties to Guatemala.  Mostly my husband and I go there to work with an education nonprofit.  In 2019 I had the privilege of a different trip, a cultural exchange of photographers with Through Each Other’s Eyes.  I met people and saw things that I’d not had a chance to before and had the great fortune to share an exhibit with the others, meet The Phoenix Guatemalan Consul General, and share visual insights into this vibrant culture.


The list goes on. Thanks for the opportunity to share some of the stories of my favorite photography-related blessings with you.

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Talk about Celestial Bodies…

 …And your angels on the wing (Jackson Browne)


Wings at sunset, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

I’m just back, with a dear friend, from another delightful, somewhat exhausting trip with Kerrick James.  This time we focused on the badlands of Northwestern New Mexico, and we also hit the other Four Corners States.

 Kerrick drove over 2000 miles in his large SUV crammed with our stuff (It’s natural to over-pack on a driving trip, right?), so there was lots of time for listening to, singing, and commenting on music.  The music seemed to narrate the trip. That’s today’s theme.  Apologies to the younger members of my audience, but the songs are mostly from my own youth, before the earth cooled.

When that moon is big and bright
It's a supernatural delight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight (Sherman Kelly)

Moonrise over hoodoos, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

The full moon never disappoints.  I’m especially fond of the thrill we feel when it comes up in the evening, somehow always a surprise despite fully expecting it. Did I actually dance?  Yep.

Oh, but I'll be alright As long as there's light From a neon moon. (Ronnie Dunn)

Morning moon set behind Ship Rock, New Mexico

This one was a roadside shot which, because of the need to hit Starbuck’s on the way, we almost missed.  Neon indeed.

Heaven opens up the door
Where angels fear to tread…Oh, blame it on midnight
Ooh, shame on the moon. (Rodney Crowell)

Moon rising from behind Merrick Butte, Monument Valley

Then there was the night at Monument Valley where, hoping to line up the rising moon with the mittens, we scooted back and forth, never finding the right spot.  Eventually we realized that the moon was climbing in the sky hidden behind Merrick Butte, about 10 compass degrees from where we wished it was. 

I'm walking on sunshine, woooah
And don't it feel good! (Kimberly Rew)

Egg Hatchery, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

There was a spectacular cloud display, warm “sweet” light, and (miraculously) no one there but the three of us. We could have walked on the sunshine.

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my leg don't break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon. (Sting)

Celestial Fork, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

The badlands of New Mexico are otherworldly for sure.  This one kept popping into my head as we walked (I wish we COULD walk forever) through the hoodoos and other odd shapes.

Now the sun's coming up, I'm riding with Lady Luck, freeway cars and trucks,
Stars beginning to fade, and I lead the parade
Just a-wishing I'd stayed a little longer,
Oh, Lord, let me tell you that the feeling's getting stronger. (Tom Waits)
Sunrise and lines, Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

It’s easy to get missile-lock on the hoodoos, but there are lots of other compelling textures and patterns.  These erosion rills are a great example and I found them irresistible.

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day (Johnny Nash)


Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

Waiting for storm clouds to clear at the famous Alien Throne, I was reminded of a pervasive lesson of landscape photography which I learned from Pete Ensenberger.  He reminded me not to get too obsessed with the plan; to look around and see what else might be happening.  As it turned out, this scene played out 90 degrees from where I was looking, and it was my favorite of the evening.

Sun's up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me. (Bruce Cockburn)

Totem Pole Rock and the dunes, a famous view of Monument Valley, Arizona

I’ve played with the morning zing at these dunes in Monument valley a few times, but it has certainly not gotten old.  Ecstasy.

Incidentally, Ray Begay, our guide in Monument Valley, was talking about his late uncle Tom Phillips who was also a guide there.  During the conversation, I realized that I'd traveled with Tom and had a photo of him playing his flute at Ear of the Wind in 2012, just a few months before he passed.  I was able to share the image with him.  Connections can be magical.

There's more in the Spring 2024 Gallery on the website.

Friday, April 12, 2024


Sunset over Bluebonnets, Muleshoe Bend Texas

“Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected.” -Sophocles

The plan hatched around the total solar eclipse.  Gwen lives outside Waco, right on the totality line cutting across Texas.  Amy and I flew in from opposite sides of the country and the three of us had 4 days to shoot together, planning to also chase other photogenic things. My eclipse images (I’ll share one below) are no better than most, but the trip was worthwhile for that experience alone.


Coneflower Portrait

There was also considerable icing on the cake: flowers, wildlife, and the odd bits of local kitsch.

I found that when we talked about what we wanted to photograph, often half-joking, as often as not we got what we asked for.  If I were more new-age, I might call that manifesting.


Greater Roadrunner, Reynold's Creek Texas

The best example was the roadrunners, which we wanted to shoot in a Bluebonnet field.  Once we started looking, they kept showing up.  So exciting.


Counterpoint, Muleshoe Bend Texas

Flowers were everywhere, and eventually I tired of the endless fields of Bluebonnets.  I started looking for counterpoints, like the Huisache Daisy punctuating this field, or beautiful oak trees to create background, like the header image.


Blue Truck Ranch (really!) Texas

There were so many roadside finds as we adopted the strategy of setting an intention, then taking the long way to our destination along smaller roads and paying attention.  We ran into old vehicles in the flowers…


Texas Longhorn at rest



Photogenic Texas Horse

…Horses, and…


Spring Mix, Inks Lake Texas

…Vast fields of mixed flowers in what amounted to glorified roadside ditches.


Speaking of good fortune, we were sure we’d miss the eclipse, because the forecast, even just a couple of hours prior, called for 100% cloud cover.  There were some clouds, but we saw just about the whole thing.  This was my first, and I was struck by the darkness, cacophony from the crickets, and the cheer which came up all around us at totality.


Great Horned Owl, Lacy Point Texas

The three of us make a good team (maybe together we have one good brain), sharing navigation, spotting, technical reminders (“time to put your solar filter back on”) and gearhead things like a sensor cleaning demonstration. Gwen had gotten some great tips from local wildlife photographer Brian Boyd, without whom the Great Horned Owl shoot and the Roadrunner hunt would have been nearly impossible.


Louis Pasteur’s thought that “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind” is likely true, but sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good.


More from the trip is in the Spring 2024 Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Use Your Photographic Powers for Good: Nonprofit Collaborations

 This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Focal Points Magazine.

Early morning commuter and reflection of the famous Arco in La Antigua Guatemala

Last May I attended my first NANPA (North American Nature Photography) Summit in Tucson.  I heard a talk from Russell Graves, an engaging photographer from Texas who works to support conservation in a wetland area near his home.  He made the point that supporting a cause is easy and very fulfilling, and that we need look no further than our backyards.


Save the Dells

Drone image of Highway 89 through the narrow section of Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona; too beautiful to dynamite.

I was inspired by Mr. Graves and made a commitment to contact the leadership of an outfit called Save the Dells which primarily works on conservation in Prescott Arizona, 35 miles from my home. When I first met with their leadership, we talked about their photography needs and I made some suggestions about what I have to offer, especially drone imaging.  I’ve since worked with them in opposition to a road-widening project which would require blasting of iconic granitic boulders and in support of a new regional park which would preserve critical open space. I’ve been collaborating with them for just a short time but am looking forward to a long fruitful partnership.

 Driving home from that first meeting I realized that, though this seemed like an epiphany at NANPA, in fact I’ve been doing this sort of thing for some time. I just hadn’t thought of this work as a goal nor realized how fulfilling it is.  I’ll share a few more examples.


Cooperative for Education

A lovely, colorful student in La Hoya, Guatemala

My husband and I have supported a Guatemalan NGO for about 15 years.  Cooperative for Education (COED) is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.  I wasn’t thinking of photography when we started working with them, but the partnership seems obvious now, after about 150 days in the country.

When in Guatemala with COED, we spend a great deal of time in rural schools and surrounding villages.  There is social time (convivencia), the unavoidable talks from administrative types, and cultural performances from the kids.  These range from sedate folk dances to performances which involve fireworks strapped to a costume or simulated Mayan human sacrifice. The images from these visits are not only useful assets for the organization, but also icebreakers with the kids.  We all love to look at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen and before long I have a tight circle of kids around me, looking at photos and asking me to also take pictures of them.


A favorite rural street image from Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala

Another of the delights of volunteer travel with COED is access to street portraiture in rural areas.  Parents and grandparents are coaxed into a sense of comfort with me, the strange photographer, because they know why we’re there and trust me more than they would the average tourist.  Even outside the schools, Guatemalans are happy to engage and have their pictures taken.

Through Each Other’s Eyes


A feral dog warms up on the lava on Pacaya, an active volcano in Guatemala

The deep dive into Guatemalan culture got me interested in becoming an Associate Photographer for Through Each Other’s Eyes, which promotes cultural understanding through photography.  We do international photographer exchanges and host exhibits of the resulting work created by photographers from both countries.  We also do educational events like photography instruction for kids and volunteer activities like annual portraits for underserved schools.

The Phoenix exhibit of 80 images from all four photographers on the Guatemala exchange.

My first TEOE exchange was with Guatemala.  I was in a unique position to organize it because of the connections made while traveling there.  I hope to participate in one of our upcoming exchanges to Himeji Japan or Cypress and Greece.

Yarnell Regional Community Center

Community fundraiser for Meals on Wheels in Yarnell Arizona

Yarnell, Arizona is my small-town home.  I’ve been volunteering to photograph events at the Yarnell Regional Community Center for some time.

A Meals on Wheels client and her beloved chihuahua.

Recently I’ve been hired to work on a project for our rural Meals on Wheels Program at the Center.  We’re operating under a grant from Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart to help our clients manage food and veterinary care for their pets.  Many of these folks have few resources, so a bit of help goes a long way. Studies show that pets are very beneficial for older people living alone and we know that they sometimes must choose between paying for their needs or the animal’s.

Veterinarian Kate McCullough cares for a Meals on Wheels client’s dog.

This project aims to make the effort sustainable with printed materials and video, and I’ve had the pleasure of contributing still and video assets, some made with the drone, as well as some work in graphic design.

Perspective pulls on heartstrings for conservation in this drone image of the Peavine Trail and Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona.

How to start

Interested in getting involved yourself? It’s easier than you might think to get started.  Perhaps you already volunteer with a local conservation, humanitarian, or animal welfare organization. Maybe you support an international cause or have a connection with another country because of your heritage.  These are great places to start brainstorming what you have to offer and having conversations with the group’s leadership.

Next, consider your strengths and what you enjoy as well as what you’d like to learn more about.  Maybe portraits of animals for rescue groups, landscape work for conservation organizations, or travel work for international NGOs will suit you.  Sometimes you discover skills as you go along.  I never knew I had a talent for graphic design until I agreed to give it a try for the YRCC pet project, and I’ve also been learning a bit of video editing.

If you’re still baffled, remember that most of these opportunities come from your own connections.  Who do you know that works with an interesting nonprofit or perhaps just knows lots of people doing interesting things?  Buy that person lunch and see where the conversation goes.


Best Friends at a school in Chimaltenango Guatemala.

Don’t be afraid of a cold call.  After all, you’re offering them something of value.  Likewise, be willing to follow up, sometimes several times.  Nonprofit leaders can be more focused on putting out fires than being proactive. Be sure to be clear that you’re a volunteer. Sometimes sharing a resume is helpful to show that you’re legitimate and help leadership see your skills and experience.

When you have that first meeting, be prepared.  Review their website and know what the current projects are.  Take some time beforehand to brainstorm what you can offer.  For example, I’ve enjoyed contributing aerial images to several projects. You might also consider portraiture, landscape work, behind-the-scenes images, and video.  Think outside the box as well and include things like public relations, events, and social media work, as well as graphic design and video editing.

As your partnership continues, attend meetings. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll be glad you did. More than once discussions in the meetings have sparked a new idea that would not have otherwise occurred to me.

Why Do This?

Mostly, I’d point to fun and fulfillment.  That’s what many of us are looking for when we reach the season in our lives when we have experience to share and perhaps some uncommitted time.  I’ve also seen some incredible places and made connections with amazing people that would not otherwise have come about.  Additionally, these projects focused my photographic learning and problem-solving skills.  I certainly have gained as much as I’ve given.