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.


  1. Thank you for sharing your thoughts about our incredible Acadia adventure, Rebecca ( incredibly cold...and incredibly rewarding!) How important it is to share, and disarm, your fears with fellow artists. And to realize that we're guided by this wonderful intuitive process, compelling us (without conscious thought) to capture the images that "speak" to us (that repeating shape thing still blows me away!)
    Thank you for your companionship, inspiration, AND your courage!

    1. Thanks for the read and the kind comments. This trip will certainly be a lifelong memory!