The Spirit of Nature

Lynn Trafton talks with John Wimberly about his inspiration.

“I listen for photographs. I listen for sounds" says John Wim­berley, California photographer. With a growing reputation that is progressing ever eastward, Wimberley's ability to share rare glimpses of nature has become a personal expression of his relation­ship with life.

As Wimberley continues, it is evident that much more than tech­nical data goes into the making of his images. His approach to pho­tography begins to come into view: a view he willingly shares.

Even after 18 years in photo­graphy, Wimberley’s first experi­ence with a camera on the flight deck of a carrier in the Viet Nam war is important to him. He be­came drawn to the action and rela­tionships on deck. The fact that he had never photographed before was not important, but the need to record these images was. It was against regulations to photograph on deck, so he just stenciled PHOTO on the back of his jacket, set up a movie camera and went to work. It looked official, and he was able to finish his 30 minute film. It was later stolen, unfor­tunately, but served to start Wimberley's special relationship with the world through the viewfinder.

"I treat the places I photograph as my friends," says Wimberley. When he first started, he used to drive around with no particular photograph in mind, but more and more he found himself returning to many of the same areas. He began to feel a private friendship developing between himself and those places. "The photographs became statements on my relation­ship with that special point," re­calls Wimberley. "Just as in a human friendship you begin to reveal more of yourself each time you meet, so it is in nature. Every time I go, a little more is revealed and we become closer friends."

To Wimberley, the ritual is photography: the equipment is the dance of contact. "If I am concen­trating on looking for a photo­graph, my mind starts calculating what makes a good picture, and the essence of the moment is gone." says Wimberley. "I like the contact of my feet with the ground, which allows the forces in a place to pull me toward an im­age I will set on film. It is impor­tant for my pictures to be a little ahead of me. When I look into the ground glass, there must be a sense of reaching.

"In a sense, I am striving to be able to show that in some form everything you work with is part of yourself. Photography is one way of making yourself focus on what is around you."

Wimberley is intrigued with pictures that show a glimpse of the edge of the world. He feels that edges are interfaces where powers of energy exist, and he searches for those edges "I would like to continue to search out the sense of mystery. The world is a vastly larger particle than I am, but we are all a part of nature. We cause changes as well as natural ele­ments. That is a responsibility that man must shoulder," he says.

At one point, Wimberley began to read author Carlos Castaneda's views on nature and man which provided a welcome affirmation to his own experiences. At least he was not the only one who felt this personal relationship between himself and nature. Someone else believed there was much more to things than the surface view.

“The challenge to me in photog­raphy," he says, "is to view the surface appearance and seek what else is there. I seek the spirit of the place. In some places the sur­face is as if the spirit is wrapped up in a rug. I try to look for sur­faces wrapped in gossamer."