Rebecca Wilks

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

Monday, June 9, 2014


Pumpkin Springs, Grand Canyon National Park (2012)
I had one of those synchronous moments at Sedona Photofest.  Larry Lindahl, who excels at conveying the emotions of the landscape, was talking about how he uses words to help people connect with the natural world.  He journals about the moment in non-visual terms; about the sounds and scents and feel of the moment.

I'd just been reading Austin Kleon.  He encourages artists to share their process, which is something like what Larry said.  Art does not, in fact, speak for itself.  We must speak for it.  That might mean sharing the sensory experience of making a photograph, but it might also be a narrative about conceptualization, preparation, and persistence.

Some of you might have read the back-story of this image which went viral last July after the Yarnell Hill Fire.  It's here in the post about the first eight days after the fire. That, though hard to tell, is one of my favorite stories.  So, here's another.

Last month, I had the privilege to photograph the Grand Canyon from the river on a ten-day raft trip led by Jack Dykinga and JustinBlack.  I wrote about how this trip feelslike a pilgrimage and about the magic of the Deer Creek Patio here. 

This image was made on the last day of the journey, at a place called Pumpkin Springs, because of its odd shape and color and (it turns out) particularly toxic water.  You may be familiar with this spot near river mile 213.

Raft trips are by definition epic experiences, and we’d had our joys and trials.  We were all pooped from days of blowing sand, and concerned about Jack’s chronic lung disease (at this writing, he’s received a lung transplant and is doing well).  I was tempted to hunker down to a quiet breakfast, but I hated to miss this last opportunity.  Two years before Justin had showed us the oddly eroded shapes in the Tapeats Sandstone near this camp, but I hadn’t come back with an image to be proud of. On this morning the sky was grey and threatening rain.  I’d visualized these tortured shapes with the reflection of sunrise-warmed cliffs in the river below, but there was no warm light to be seen.

So, three of us took off without breakfast, picking our way along the cliffs and looking for a break in the clouds.  As I knew this was prime rattlesnake territory I was looking for them as well.  We knew the group wouldn’t leave without us but we had about 45 minutes before we were late and began to irritate our fellow travelers.  It drizzled on and off, but never enough to make me pull out the camera cover.  Rushing to position tripods over these complex shapes, pointing straight down, proved frustrating for all of us. I ended up adjusting my camera settings to hand-hold the camera, laying on my belly, and leaning into the holes with my wide-angle lens attached.  The breeze carried the characteristic wet, green smell from the Colorado River ten feet below and the canyon wrens were calling from the cliffs above.

From this comical position, I saw the reflected light I’d been waiting for begin to come up below me.  I had time to get off 3 shots and it was over.

We were a bit late, but forgiven I think. 

This image made a fitting grand finale for my trip, and I carried the glow with me through the long bumpy bus ride out of the canyon.

As always, thanks for the read.  The Grand Canyon Gallery is here.

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