Rebecca Wilks

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

Sunday, April 28, 2024

Talk about Celestial Bodies…

 …And your angels on the wing (Jackson Browne)


Wings at sunset, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

I’m just back, with a dear friend, from another delightful, somewhat exhausting trip with Kerrick James.  This time we focused on the badlands of Northwestern New Mexico, and we also hit the other Four Corners States.

 Kerrick drove over 2000 miles in his large SUV crammed with our stuff (It’s natural to over-pack on a driving trip, right?), so there was lots of time for listening to, singing, and commenting on music.  The music seemed to narrate the trip. That’s today’s theme.  Apologies to the younger members of my audience, but the songs are mostly from my own youth, before the earth cooled.

When that moon is big and bright
It's a supernatural delight
Everybody's dancin' in the moonlight (Sherman Kelly)

Moonrise over hoodoos, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

The full moon never disappoints.  I’m especially fond of the thrill we feel when it comes up in the evening, somehow always a surprise despite fully expecting it. Did I actually dance?  Yep.

Oh, but I'll be alright As long as there's light From a neon moon. (Ronnie Dunn)

Morning moon set behind Ship Rock, New Mexico

This one was a roadside shot which, because of the need to hit Starbuck’s on the way, we almost missed.  Neon indeed.

Heaven opens up the door
Where angels fear to tread…Oh, blame it on midnight
Ooh, shame on the moon. (Rodney Crowell)

Moon rising from behind Merrick Butte, Monument Valley

Then there was the night at Monument Valley where, hoping to line up the rising moon with the mittens, we scooted back and forth, never finding the right spot.  Eventually we realized that the moon was climbing in the sky hidden behind Merrick Butte, about 10 compass degrees from where we wished it was. 

I'm walking on sunshine, woooah
And don't it feel good! (Kimberly Rew)

Egg Hatchery, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

There was a spectacular cloud display, warm “sweet” light, and (miraculously) no one there but the three of us. We could have walked on the sunshine.

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my leg don't break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon. (Sting)

Celestial Fork, Bisti De Na Zin Wilderness New Mexico

The badlands of New Mexico are otherworldly for sure.  This one kept popping into my head as we walked (I wish we COULD walk forever) through the hoodoos and other odd shapes.

Now the sun's coming up, I'm riding with Lady Luck, freeway cars and trucks,
Stars beginning to fade, and I lead the parade
Just a-wishing I'd stayed a little longer,
Oh, Lord, let me tell you that the feeling's getting stronger. (Tom Waits)
Sunrise and lines, Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

It’s easy to get missile-lock on the hoodoos, but there are lots of other compelling textures and patterns.  These erosion rills are a great example and I found them irresistible.

I can see clearly now the rain is gone
I can see all obstacles in my way
Gone are the dark clouds that had me blind
It's gonna be a bright (bright) sunshiny day (Johnny Nash)


Ah Shi Sle Pah Wilderness, New Mexico

Waiting for storm clouds to clear at the famous Alien Throne, I was reminded of a pervasive lesson of landscape photography which I learned from Pete Ensenberger.  He reminded me not to get too obsessed with the plan; to look around and see what else might be happening.  As it turned out, this scene played out 90 degrees from where I was looking, and it was my favorite of the evening.

Sun's up, uuh huh, looks okay
The world survives into another day
And I’m thinking about eternity
Some kind of ecstasy got a hold on me. (Bruce Cockburn)

Totem Pole Rock and the dunes, a famous view of Monument Valley, Arizona

I’ve played with the morning zing at these dunes in Monument valley a few times, but it has certainly not gotten old.  Ecstasy.

Incidentally, Ray Begay, our guide in Monument Valley, was talking about his late uncle Tom Phillips who was also a guide there.  During the conversation, I realized that I'd traveled with Tom and had a photo of him playing his flute at Ear of the Wind in 2012, just a few months before he passed.  I was able to share the image with him.  Connections can be magical.

There's more in the Spring 2024 Gallery on the website.

Friday, April 12, 2024


Sunset over Bluebonnets, Muleshoe Bend Texas

“Look and you will find it - what is unsought will go undetected.” -Sophocles

The plan hatched around the total solar eclipse.  Gwen lives outside Waco, right on the totality line cutting across Texas.  Amy and I flew in from opposite sides of the country and the three of us had 4 days to shoot together, planning to also chase other photogenic things. My eclipse images (I’ll share one below) are no better than most, but the trip was worthwhile for that experience alone.


Coneflower Portrait

There was also considerable icing on the cake: flowers, wildlife, and the odd bits of local kitsch.

I found that when we talked about what we wanted to photograph, often half-joking, as often as not we got what we asked for.  If I were more new-age, I might call that manifesting.


Greater Roadrunner, Reynold's Creek Texas

The best example was the roadrunners, which we wanted to shoot in a Bluebonnet field.  Once we started looking, they kept showing up.  So exciting.


Counterpoint, Muleshoe Bend Texas

Flowers were everywhere, and eventually I tired of the endless fields of Bluebonnets.  I started looking for counterpoints, like the Huisache Daisy punctuating this field, or beautiful oak trees to create background, like the header image.


Blue Truck Ranch (really!) Texas

There were so many roadside finds as we adopted the strategy of setting an intention, then taking the long way to our destination along smaller roads and paying attention.  We ran into old vehicles in the flowers…


Texas Longhorn at rest



Photogenic Texas Horse

…Horses, and…


Spring Mix, Inks Lake Texas

…Vast fields of mixed flowers in what amounted to glorified roadside ditches.


Speaking of good fortune, we were sure we’d miss the eclipse, because the forecast, even just a couple of hours prior, called for 100% cloud cover.  There were some clouds, but we saw just about the whole thing.  This was my first, and I was struck by the darkness, cacophony from the crickets, and the cheer which came up all around us at totality.


Great Horned Owl, Lacy Point Texas

The three of us make a good team (maybe together we have one good brain), sharing navigation, spotting, technical reminders (“time to put your solar filter back on”) and gearhead things like a sensor cleaning demonstration. Gwen had gotten some great tips from local wildlife photographer Brian Boyd, without whom the Great Horned Owl shoot and the Roadrunner hunt would have been nearly impossible.


Louis Pasteur’s thought that “In the fields of observation chance favors only the prepared mind” is likely true, but sometimes it’s just better to be lucky than good.


More from the trip is in the Spring 2024 Gallery on the website.

Tuesday, April 2, 2024

Use Your Photographic Powers for Good: Nonprofit Collaborations

 This article originally appeared in the April/May issue of Focal Points Magazine.

Early morning commuter and reflection of the famous Arco in La Antigua Guatemala

Last May I attended my first NANPA (North American Nature Photography) Summit in Tucson.  I heard a talk from Russell Graves, an engaging photographer from Texas who works to support conservation in a wetland area near his home.  He made the point that supporting a cause is easy and very fulfilling, and that we need look no further than our backyards.


Save the Dells

Drone image of Highway 89 through the narrow section of Granite Dells in Prescott Arizona; too beautiful to dynamite.

I was inspired by Mr. Graves and made a commitment to contact the leadership of an outfit called Save the Dells which primarily works on conservation in Prescott Arizona, 35 miles from my home. When I first met with their leadership, we talked about their photography needs and I made some suggestions about what I have to offer, especially drone imaging.  I’ve since worked with them in opposition to a road-widening project which would require blasting of iconic granitic boulders and in support of a new regional park which would preserve critical open space. I’ve been collaborating with them for just a short time but am looking forward to a long fruitful partnership.

 Driving home from that first meeting I realized that, though this seemed like an epiphany at NANPA, in fact I’ve been doing this sort of thing for some time. I just hadn’t thought of this work as a goal nor realized how fulfilling it is.  I’ll share a few more examples.


Cooperative for Education

A lovely, colorful student in La Hoya, Guatemala

My husband and I have supported a Guatemalan NGO for about 15 years.  Cooperative for Education (COED) is dedicated to breaking the cycle of poverty in Guatemala through education.  I wasn’t thinking of photography when we started working with them, but the partnership seems obvious now, after about 150 days in the country.

When in Guatemala with COED, we spend a great deal of time in rural schools and surrounding villages.  There is social time (convivencia), the unavoidable talks from administrative types, and cultural performances from the kids.  These range from sedate folk dances to performances which involve fireworks strapped to a costume or simulated Mayan human sacrifice. The images from these visits are not only useful assets for the organization, but also icebreakers with the kids.  We all love to look at the photos on my camera’s LCD screen and before long I have a tight circle of kids around me, looking at photos and asking me to also take pictures of them.


A favorite rural street image from Santa Catarina Palopo, Guatemala

Another of the delights of volunteer travel with COED is access to street portraiture in rural areas.  Parents and grandparents are coaxed into a sense of comfort with me, the strange photographer, because they know why we’re there and trust me more than they would the average tourist.  Even outside the schools, Guatemalans are happy to engage and have their pictures taken.

Through Each Other’s Eyes


A feral dog warms up on the lava on Pacaya, an active volcano in Guatemala

The deep dive into Guatemalan culture got me interested in becoming an Associate Photographer for Through Each Other’s Eyes, which promotes cultural understanding through photography.  We do international photographer exchanges and host exhibits of the resulting work created by photographers from both countries.  We also do educational events like photography instruction for kids and volunteer activities like annual portraits for underserved schools.

The Phoenix exhibit of 80 images from all four photographers on the Guatemala exchange.

My first TEOE exchange was with Guatemala.  I was in a unique position to organize it because of the connections made while traveling there.  I hope to participate in one of our upcoming exchanges to Himeji Japan or Cypress and Greece.

Yarnell Regional Community Center

Community fundraiser for Meals on Wheels in Yarnell Arizona

Yarnell, Arizona is my small-town home.  I’ve been volunteering to photograph events at the Yarnell Regional Community Center for some time.

A Meals on Wheels client and her beloved chihuahua.

Recently I’ve been hired to work on a project for our rural Meals on Wheels Program at the Center.  We’re operating under a grant from Meals on Wheels America and PetSmart to help our clients manage food and veterinary care for their pets.  Many of these folks have few resources, so a bit of help goes a long way. Studies show that pets are very beneficial for older people living alone and we know that they sometimes must choose between paying for their needs or the animal’s.

Veterinarian Kate McCullough cares for a Meals on Wheels client’s dog.

This project aims to make the effort sustainable with printed materials and video, and I’ve had the pleasure of contributing still and video assets, some made with the drone, as well as some work in graphic design.

Perspective pulls on heartstrings for conservation in this drone image of the Peavine Trail and Watson Lake in Prescott Arizona.

How to start

Interested in getting involved yourself? It’s easier than you might think to get started.  Perhaps you already volunteer with a local conservation, humanitarian, or animal welfare organization. Maybe you support an international cause or have a connection with another country because of your heritage.  These are great places to start brainstorming what you have to offer and having conversations with the group’s leadership.

Next, consider your strengths and what you enjoy as well as what you’d like to learn more about.  Maybe portraits of animals for rescue groups, landscape work for conservation organizations, or travel work for international NGOs will suit you.  Sometimes you discover skills as you go along.  I never knew I had a talent for graphic design until I agreed to give it a try for the YRCC pet project, and I’ve also been learning a bit of video editing.

If you’re still baffled, remember that most of these opportunities come from your own connections.  Who do you know that works with an interesting nonprofit or perhaps just knows lots of people doing interesting things?  Buy that person lunch and see where the conversation goes.


Best Friends at a school in Chimaltenango Guatemala.

Don’t be afraid of a cold call.  After all, you’re offering them something of value.  Likewise, be willing to follow up, sometimes several times.  Nonprofit leaders can be more focused on putting out fires than being proactive. Be sure to be clear that you’re a volunteer. Sometimes sharing a resume is helpful to show that you’re legitimate and help leadership see your skills and experience.

When you have that first meeting, be prepared.  Review their website and know what the current projects are.  Take some time beforehand to brainstorm what you can offer.  For example, I’ve enjoyed contributing aerial images to several projects. You might also consider portraiture, landscape work, behind-the-scenes images, and video.  Think outside the box as well and include things like public relations, events, and social media work, as well as graphic design and video editing.

As your partnership continues, attend meetings. If you have the time and inclination, you’ll be glad you did. More than once discussions in the meetings have sparked a new idea that would not have otherwise occurred to me.

Why Do This?

Mostly, I’d point to fun and fulfillment.  That’s what many of us are looking for when we reach the season in our lives when we have experience to share and perhaps some uncommitted time.  I’ve also seen some incredible places and made connections with amazing people that would not otherwise have come about.  Additionally, these projects focused my photographic learning and problem-solving skills.  I certainly have gained as much as I’ve given.