Rebecca Wilks

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

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

Magic Wand

Sunrise, Western Grand Canyon

Bouncing out a dirt road for 49 miles gave me time to think.  I wouldn’t trade this for anything, but if I had a Magic Wand, I might smooth out the drive.

I’ve concluded that there are two kinds of off-roaders.  The first I’ll call “Jeepers.” Their travel is primarily about the challenges of the road.  The more difficult, the better.  The most hardcore don’t mind so much if their vehicle turns over; that’s what the roll bar is for.  There seem to be quite a few of those, judging from the 50,000 people that flood into Moab Utah (population about 6000) each year for Jeep Safari.   I do
admire the skills of the drivers and the capabilities of the vehicles, but this is not for me.  

Lurch before dawn
I belong to the second group commonly called “Overlanders.”  These trips are about the destination.  There’s usually a multi-night component with emphasis on camping in the most beautiful locations.  It’s all about the quiet and isolation; a chance to clear the mental cobwebs.  This mindset is perfectly suited to a landscape photographer. Now that many federal lands are being overrun (perhaps due in part to a very successful “Find Your Park” campaign) and there’s talk of limiting access to the more popular National Parks (read about Arches, Zion, and Grand Canyon), time in the isolated locations is increasingly valuable.
Standing vigil over the Colorado River
The experience is intensified when I’m disconnected from the rest of the world for several days.  That disconnection, in turn, forges a connection with the natural world. I’m learning so much by immersion; about the land, astronomical phenomena, wildlife, botany, and weather. 

Cold weather travel is another strategy for finding solitude.  We love to pack up the camper (it has a heater) and dog, knowing we’ll be reasonably comfortable and alone out there at near-freezing temps.  Snow, if it comes, is a photographic bonus.
Lee's Ferry Sunrise
I’ve illustrated this post with images from last weekend’s (yes, we completely blew off Thanksgiving this year) overland trip to an undisclosed location, with one night on the way home at Lee’s Ferry on the Colorado River, which by virtue of being well known is disclosable.

Come to think of it, perhaps I want to use that Magic Wand for something else.  If these drives were easy, maybe everybody would be doing them.  

Thanks for riding along.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Coloring Outside the Lines

Yucca Detail, Chiricahua National Monument AZ

What’s the point of a photo workshop, anyway?

There are lots of good answers to that question, but I propose that the opportunity to stretch my limits in a supportive environment is high on the list.

I’m just back from five days shooting in Southern Arizona with Colleen Miniuk-Sperry and Paul Gill.  This was a small group outing which was a perk offered as part of their Indiegogo campaign for the second edition of the Wild in Arizona Wildflower Photography Guide.  Four of us came together to plan this trip over a year ago.  Sadly, one could not make it so in the end we were a nimble, simpatico group of five.

We talked about several locations, and I favored this trip based out of Willcox because I’d not worked in Southeastern Arizona before.  As it turned out, we formed a culture of experimentation.  We shared ideas, supported each other, and “Stole Like an Artist.”  

As an aside, I highly recommend Austin Kleon’s book, who’s title I stole to make my point.  See how that works?

Forest Composite, Cave Creek Canyon AZ
As our hike was winding down in Cave Creek Canyon, we started talking about motion blur and multiple exposures.  Some of my compatriots were making these images in camera, but I decided to create the ingredients in the field and put the power of Adobe Photoshop’s Blend Modes to work on them.  The image above this paragraph is the result, and below the two blended shots.  Wild, no?  I think I’d like to go further down this rabbit hole.

By the way, the silly ”bobble head” group shot at the end of this post also arose from that session.

Backlight on the Ranch, Dragoon Mountain Foothills
Another day, in the foothills of the Dragoon Mountains, I found myself mostly uninspired until I stumbled on a stream of water overflowing from a cattle tank. The backlight really was golden like this. I got a little creative to play up the little splashes.  This image is composed of 4 exposures stacked in the camera.  Some of you may remember this technique from your film photography days.  Modern digital cameras will stack as many exposures together as you’d like, and will give you an average exposure so it’s delightfully easy.

Mud Cracks, Willcox Playa AZ
Finally, the mud cracks.  The delicious, perfectly formed examples of apparent randomness.  If I understood chaos theory I’d wax poetic about it now.  Lucky for you, I don’t.  Much.  I don’t usually love this sort of image but I do have a bit of a crush on these.  By the way, there’s a more conventional landscape image using the cracks as foreground on the website, with the others in the Autumn 2016 Gallery (new images added at the bottom of the page).

Thanks for peeking in my coloring book.

Saturday, November 19, 2016

The Rotary Trips

Stearn's Wharf, Santa Barbara

  Sometimes I say that every trip is a photo trip, but that’s not entirely true.

I do my best to include camera work in my travels, but lately there have been a couple of Rotary-related journeys which required other kinds of work.  Sometimes I leave the camera in the hotel room.

Rotary, since you asked, is a 110-year-old worldwide service organization.  I love being a Rotarian especially because of the relationships I’ve formed all over the world, and the opportunity to leave things a little better than I found them.

I have the honor of working on a team that organizes grants, which means I get to help put money to work improving peoples’ lives worldwide.  Each year we have a Grants conference with Rotarians from Mexico, and this time we were in Veracruz. We came together last month to fund nearly $750,000 worth of grants, in Mexico, but also in places as far-flung as Mongolia and Kenya and as close to home as the Navajo Reservation.

Rotarian Elizabeth Mahoney get a baking lession at Cecati 42
We visited Cecati 42, a vocational school which is launching a program of training and job placement for the differently able.  They gave us a baking lesson, and I had a chance to photograph that.

Morning on the Gulf of Mexico, Veracruz
We were busy with meetings and Mexican hospitality, but there’s always (well, usually) time for a morning walk with my camera.

Closer to home, I traveled to Santa Barbara for a conference last week for Rotarians from seven states and British Columbia.  When I had a few moments, I walked or rode a rented bicycle around this gorgeous town.

The Red Sand Project
One photogenic event there was the “Red Sand Project,” where we put sand in pavement gaps to symbolize preventing vulnerable people from falling through the cracks.  The focus is primarily on raising awareness around human trafficking. 

I also joined a group of about 500 renovating two Boys and Girls Clubs in the area.

Looking out over Santa Barbara from the County Courthouse Clock Tower
Whenever I travel, I’m looking for images which convey the place as I see it and increase my understanding.  These Rotary trips give me incredible access to relationships and unconventional shots.  They do enrich my portfolio, but there’s also an opportunity to use imagery to raise awareness and perhaps start a conversation.

I suppose every trip is a photo trip; at least a little.