Rebecca Wilks

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

Friday, October 24, 2014

Acadia Redux

 I’m glad I didn’t know what I was missing.

Last year that is, when I was in Maine, Acadia National Park was closed because of the government shut-down.  The (non-federal) places we went were lovely; some of them spectacular, but the park surpasses all that.

This year there were five women, including Colleen Miniuk-Sperry, our fearless leader.  I’ve sung her praises before.  In short, she has the knowledge and the enthusiasm to make a good expedition great.

I have nothing profound to say about this trip.  I want mostly to express my gratitude to my traveling companions for creating such a cohesive team.  We managed to do some great work and have a grand time doing it, despite some rain, gale force wind, and worst of all some stubbornly overcast skies.  The upside is that, when the sun did finally come out, we were fully primed to appreciate it.

At one point Colleen was writing down the one-liners.  I hope they’re still funny out of context. Perhaps they’ll end up in her blog.

This is Newport Cove.  We knew it would be gorgeous in morning light, so we came back three times and were thrilled that the sun did finally appear.

The rain has its charms, though, from macro images of water droplets on leaves to this boardwalk saturated several shades darker and decorated with foliage.

The day before I left Phoenix I had the pleasure of meeting and hearing a lecture from Art Wolfe.  His thoughts must have penetrated to my subconscious, because I brought home some painterly things like this tree detail. No fancy Photoshop tricks here – just a six second exposure.

And then there are the carriage roads, many of which were built 100 years ago as part of a partnership with wealthy residents (some named Rockefeller).  They’ve been refurbished in recent decades thanks to Friends of Acadia and they remain places to walk, ride, and sometimes bicycle around Mount Desert Island.  I am fascinated by the stone bridges that punctuate the roads and jumped at every opportunity to photograph them.

Trips like this are one of life’s great pleasures.

More Acadia images are in the Northeast US Gallery on the website.

Wednesday, October 8, 2014


Sunset, Joshua Tree NP

I can't exactly call it a vision quest, since I'm here in the four-wheel camper, complete with cold beer and a warm bed.  It's something like that, though, perched on a pile of rocks tapping on my iPad, , marveling at this place.

I knew good things were coming when my favorite camp spot was available.

I might have mentioned before that Joshua Tree National Park has been a center of peace and renewal for me since my rock climbing days in the mid-80s.  It was a national monument then; free to get in and cheap to camp.  I was in medical school.  It was a three hour drive from San Diego, but I belonged to a small band of escapees that made the pilgrimage most weekends in the colder months.  Climbing was a meditation for me, requiring me to be staunchly in the moment at a time when the rest of life was a little overwhelming.

Now my strength and flexibility (not to mention my recalcitrant low back) keep me from climbing.  The place has retained its magical healing powers though.  Lucky me.

I'm not really here to photograph.  I did some, but not obsessively. It is only, as two of my mentors say, secondarily about the images. The experience comes first.

So, after helping some new friends extricate their high-centered motor home, I climbed up here and had a beer and started feeling squishy.  My husband and his sisters coined this expression when they were kids.  To be squishy is to be overwhelmed with love and gratitude.  All things are good in my world.  I'm alone with that JT magic and there's nowhere I'd rather be.

Star Trails, Joshua Tree NP
Of course, I'll be out of bed when the moon sets, shooting stars.
Thanks for sharing squishy with me.

Friday, October 3, 2014


Colorado Aspen Forest, With Jerry Dodrill

I’m just back from the San Juan Mountains in Southwestern Colorado, a spectacular place to photograph fall color.  Yes, it was a beautiful trip, but this isn’t a travel log; I want to talk about something that this journey got me thinking about.

I’ve been pondering the finer points of teaching, and what a complex task good instruction can be. I was paying attention during this trip to the teaching style of Jerry Dodrill, one of my mentors.  He has a way of giving students just the nudge we need at just the right time.  At one point, I was working on something, and (in about 2 milliseconds) he suggested a change.  Yes, I had thought about visual pathways in images before, but hadn’t pulled that thought out of the back of my mind on my own.  Next time I will.  Anyway, I went back and recomposed and ended up with the first image here, which is much better than the others.  
First Autumn Snow with Jerry Dodrill
In the field and during critiques, I heard Jerry working with folks and making judgments about how much information to share (and thereby avoid that overwhelmed, ‘drinking from the fire hose’ feeling).  Meeting students where they are can be complex.  So can correcting and encouraging at the same time.

Pete Ensenberger, too, has given me some of the best critiques of my career and manages to nit-pick in a good, non-threatening way.  Instead of “What were you thinking?” for example, he might say, Well, that was a good experiment.”

There is, indeed, no substitute for mentor relationships, and I have been blessed with these and more.
Katmai NP (Alaska) With Stan Cunningham
The mentors whom I’d call naturalists show me whole new vistas on the world which enhance every aspect of a shoot.  They remind me that the more I know about Geology and Biology (for example), the better my images and my experience will be.  Here I think of Gary Ladd, BruceTaubert, and Stan Cunningham.

Then there are the structured thinkers, who hold me to a higher standard of composition and technical acumen.  Just when I think it’s good enough, they nudge me toward better.  Thanks, here, are due to Justin Black and Colleen Miniuk-Sperry.  
Hunts Mesa With Kerrick James
The adventurous have a good deal to teach me about daring to get out there and take a few risks.  My first response is often to be cautious, and teachers like KerrickJames lead by example, a little closer to the figurative ledge and sometimes literally close to the edge.

There are more of course, but you get the point.

Oh, and from everyone I learn about passion.

My  wish for you is passion and excellent teachers, and that you enjoy the Autumn images on