Rebecca Wilks

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

Wednesday, April 26, 2017


Backlighted Water, Dragoon Mountains, AZ

I'm a backlight junkie.  I love shooting into the sun, despite the challenges it poses with exposure and lens flare.  Or maybe partly because of them.

Cottonwood, Watson Lake, Prescott AZ
Backlight is magical behind translucent things like cholla spines, fall leaves, and a head of blonde hair.  It can also set off a dramatic silhouette, and allows for creation of a sun star if conditions are right.

Athmospheric, Kofa Mountins, AZ
Lighted from behind, a foggy or dusty scene is transformed.  In fact, backlight gives an opportunity to show a new perspective.

Forsyth Park, Savannah GA
All this is true, but mostly I love the luscious and beautiful depth of emotion that's available in a backlighted scene.

Poppy, White Tank Mountains AZ
There are worse addictions, right?

Thursday, April 20, 2017


"Lurch," my camper, in a glass ball

A layover day is a beautiful thing.  In the Kofa National Wildlife Preserve last week, I loved my camp spot so much that I decided to spend a second night there.  After a morning shoot and a walk to scout, I had some glorious time for relaxation.  It was perhaps my last chance to enjoy desert camping before temperatures soar.  I sat in comfort reading in the shade of the camper, napped, and shot some mid-day macro with a diffuser.  Things are coming together for summer road trips, some with friends and others in splendid solitude, and I did some planning for that as well.

I also put some energy into contemplation, revisiting thoughts about the nature of success.  

Too often we define ourselves with monetary achievements.  It is certainly delightful to be paid for my work, but not sufficient to sustain passion.

Cactus Bud
Validation and recognition are lovely as well, but sometimes the treadmill of social media acknowledgement, for example, is an unsatisfying drug. The opinions of others are a dangerous way to define attainment.

I'm increasingly enjoying lending my photographic skills to causes that are important to me.  I'm photographing for Cooperative for Education to support our educational goals in Guatemala and I create a scenic calendar each year to sell as a fundraiser for Peoria North Rotary, my club.

My first TEOE Meeting
I'm thrilled, as well, to have recently joined Through Each Other's Eyes (TEOE), a nonprofit which creates cultural understanding through photographic exchanges.  As board member Art Holeman says, we need this more than ever.  Already our class of new associates is sharing ideas for the organization and has enjoyed hosting two photographers from Hermosillo Mexico.  I plan to help create an exchange to Guatemala, involving some of my “Chapin” friends.

The big contributor moments which feel successful, though it might sound rather trite, is personal satisfaction.  This process of waiting for sunrise in a beautiful place, exploring, learning, and even processing images on the computer is fulfilling. These are profound, interior experiences. I find, too, that I put my images in private places like my phone screen, desktop, and journal app.  There's satisfaction in that far beyond the self-congratulatory.

Backlight in the Kofas
Guy Tal writes inspirationally about this, saying (to paraphrase) that nature photography can be very personal.  He’s also asserted that a great wilderness experience without photography is successful on its own merits.

Ultimately, we define the word for ourselves.  I appreciate the opportunity to dedicate some "layover time" to these thoughts, and other aspects of the big picture.

More images from the Kofa trip are in the Desert Gallery on my website.

Monday, April 10, 2017

The Hotshot Trail

Yucca at sunrise on the trail
Nineteen Granite plaques, each bearing a short bio crafted by loved ones and a likeness of a young man at his best, smiling broadly.  Nineteen gabions with nineteen purple ribbons unified by chains around nineteen metal crosses identified by name.

The multisensory experience of a gorgeous spring morning stood in sharp contrast to this sober memorial.   Blooms were interspersed with charred skeletons of trees and I could pick out the call of canyon wrens among chattering birdsong.

This trail, apropos a pilgrimage, requires significant effort.  

Memorial Plaque

After I reached the observation point, a 1200 foot climb the trailhead, I was hesitant to hike the additional three-quarter mile down to what we Yarnell residents have come to call the incident site. This last bit approximates the route the 19 men took just before they died on June 30, 2013.  I’ve been opposed to the creation of this spur trail, wanting to preserve hallowed ground and to protect the privacy of the owners of the nearby ranch that the hotshots were striving for and didn’t quite make. 

The incident site with Yarnell in the background
In the end, looking down from that observation point, I decided that I needed to stand on that ground and photograph the circle in order to tell the story of this trail.

The procession, July 7, 2013
To my surprise, there were no ghosts there for me.  I find that I feel the presence of these men most in the memory of the funeral procession.

My husband and I have lived part-time in Yarnell since long before the fire.  This colossal loss feels personal and probably always will.  A reasonable person could argue about the appropriateness of the choices made that day, but these men were working to save our community.  They were doing what they loved, because who would be a hotshot if not for love?  They knew the risks and some of them were probably lovers of adrenaline.

Claret Cup Cactus Blooms on the Trail

We'll do our best to honor these men as we build our new home; perhaps with nineteen metal ribbons on the fence, and I'll head up that trail again, I know.