Rebecca Wilks

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

Monday, February 15, 2016

Subtle and pervasive

Sieur De Monts, Acadia National Park

Jerry Dodrill suggested some inspirational reading on the small private Facebook group he moderates.  Art & Fear by David Bayles and Ted Orland is a brief gem of philosophy which had me marking up the Kindle edition on a long flight to Portland Maine.  

I was meeting photographer friends for an ambitious week photographing Acadia National Park in winter, under the expert guidance of Colleen Miniuk-Sperry.  Colleen is a three-time Artist in Residence at Acadia and a teacher we’ve all thoroughly enjoyed traveling with in the past.

The thing is that there were so many dovetails between the highlighted passages in the book and the things we talked about during our mid-day indoor photo critique, warm-up (it was not surprisingly quite cold out), and creativity sessions.

Some examples, perhaps? 

Blueberry Hill, Acadia National Park
Toward the end of the week, we were all finding that we had composed some of our strongest images with repeating shapes.  The example shows the foreground snow shape repeated in the shape of the coast.  What’s remarkable is that the specific composition came without conscious thought.  Sometimes as I move around in the field to create the best effect, I settle on one intuitively.  How delightful to think that I’m guided by that submerged portion of my metaphoric iceberg.

So, here I sit on the long flight home, rereading the highlighted passages in Bayles and Orland’s book, and I come across this; 

“We are compelled by forces that, like the ocean current, are so subtle and pervasive that we take them utterly for granted.”

Subtle and pervasive, indeed.

Here’s another; We talked quite a bit about the tension between the need to do solitary work and the benefits of connecting with other artists.  There are so many creative benefits of hanging out with my photographer friends, but this thought really struck home for me;

“To the critic, art is a noun…what we really gain by the art making of others is courage-by-association.  Depth of contact grows as fears are shared – and thereby disarmed – and this comes from embracing art as process and artists as kindred spirits.  To the artist, art is a verb.”

Finally, this quote resonates for me as I concentrate on improving my work. 

“What you need to know about the next piece is contained in the last piece.”

It seems to me to embody the value of image critique in an emotionally safe setting.  Colleen and some other favorite mentors deliver thoughts on my work, the good bad and ugly, in a supportive and kind way.  This is particularly impressive in the larger context.  We half-joke about some other workshop experiences, hearing teachers ask in an accusatory tone, “WHAT were you thinking?” or worse.

By the way, Acadia was phenomenal.  We were fortunate to have plenty of gorgeous snow, and temps were cold enough to provide miraculous ice sculptures in the nearly deserted park.  The cold was substantial though, and I’ll caution that this trip requires some specific equipment and planning for comfort and more important, safety.

Some of Colleen’s more interesting techniques to unlock creativity require some writing.  We began with a six-word photo-autobiography, and the next day we were writing haiku about the place and making images which reflect those thoughts.  In fact, the exercise is easier and more fun than I’d at first thought.

I’ll leave you with these two prose-image pairs.

Backlight at Arey Cove, Acadia National Park
Six-word autobiography.  The image, again, developed subconsciously several days after sharing the words.  I was delighted when one of my fellow travelers pointed out that I’d made an image that illustrates the quote;

“Gazing like surfers, toward perfect wave”

"Sea Smoke," Acadia National Park
Haiku. This one was more deliberate;

“Solid liquid gas.
The three phases of water
Always transitions”

More images from this adventure are at the end of the Northeast US Gallery on the website.

Friday, February 5, 2016

Grand Canyon Winter Magic

The flipside, a sunrise view with my back to the Grand Canyon
This trip went through more changes than a 13-year-old boy’s voice.

Dawn at Marble Canyon
Plan “A” was to stay at Toroweap and some nearby places with three friends for a long weekend.  Ultimately (after several changes in-between), because of some health issues and concerns about the weather, we were 3 for one night in the Marble Canyon area and then I was off on my own. 

El Tovar lobby from above
The coming storm made me decide to scrap previous plans and head to the Grand Canyon.  The trick photographing fresh snow there is to get hunkered down before the weather hits and be ready to take advantage of stormy skies and fresh snow.  There were 50 MPH winds in the forecast and I’m a weenie about camping in high wind.  As it turns out, people cancel their reservations there when weather is coming, and the El Tovar Hotel had rooms available at a steep discount.  This architectural gem is 116 years old, part of a series of Fred Harvey railroad hotels.  What a treat to be tucked into a comfy room when the wind hit.

My camera and I were walking the Rim Trail Saturday afternoon when I got a text from dear friends who wanted me to know that they were spending a few hours at the Grand Canyon of all places.  Enjoying the serendipity, we had tea in the El Tovar Lounge before they returned home to Peeples Valley.  Somehow this first lovely surprise set the tone for the rest of the magical extended weekend.
Approaching Storm
I knew the snow was coming Sunday or Monday and that I was likely to be voluntarily ‘stuck’ there until the roads were clear, but I was giddy about the opportunity to be right in the middle of it.  Regular readers will remember a friend who’s a North Rim Ranger.  As it turns out, Jess is working part-time at the South Rim for the Winter season and lives at Verkamp’s.   

Verkamp's, Predawn
This structure, which happened to have its 110th anniversary while I was there, was a general store until 2008 and now serves as a visitor’s center and gift shop operated by the Grand Canyon Association.  The Verkamp Family lived in an upstairs apartment with a canyon view.  I was thrilled to stay there as Jess’ guest for a couple of nights, enjoying the creaky floors and artwork donated by Grand Canyon Artists-In-Residence (AiR).  This perch was perfect for watching the weather and running in and out repeatedly to shoot when things were looking good.  At other times I processed images on my laptop and relaxed.  There’s a guest book from the AiR program on the living room coffee table.  I picked it up casually at first, becoming increasingly moved by the words and images there and had a profound sense of connection with the place.

The tome is an eclectic mix of drawings, musical notation, prose & poetry.  The examples are used with permission of the artists;

Siri Beckman  

Ekaterina Smirnova

I met some lovely folks who assumed, because I was alone and had lots of gear, that I was a Grand Canyon expert.  Sometimes I can answer questions and sometimes not.  My favorite was a man with a Latin-American accent asking me “where is the good view?”  I had a private chuckle, and eventually realized he was looking for what’s called the Sky Walk on the Hualapai Reservation, 250 road miles away.  I couldn’t resist telling him that he was better off right where he was.

iPhone pano of the Kolb Workroom.  The photo window is on the left.
Jess generously gave me a private tour of the Kolb Studio, perhaps the structure with the most striking views from the South Rim.  Built in 1904, it includes the family home as well as a theater (which showed the Kolb brothers’ movie for 61 years) and photographic studio.  Travelers down the Bright Angel Trail would have their pictures taken (from a window in the building) and could purchase prints when they returned.

Tuesday the storm had cleared and, though temps were below zero, the departure of the wind made for rather comfortable temperatures, at least with all the clothes I’d layered on.

Coyote Tracks
I was the first human out in the predawn light. When I spotted the prints, I thought someone had been on an early walk with their two dogs. I must have been a little sleepy, because it took me a while to realize that there were no human footprints. Then I heard the coyotes howl. 

When the morning light began to develop, crystalline in the wake of the storm, I forgot all the rest.  This is what the 3-day wait had been all about, and the canyon didn’t disappoint.  I’m afraid I don’t have words to convey what a joy it was to experience the canyon after a winter storm.

Breakfast at the El Tovar was delightful, and all that remained was 20 minutes scraping ice from the vehicle and heading down the hill.

More images are in the Grand Canyon Gallery on the Website.