I am not the first, and no doubt will I be the last, to have gotten to interview the beautiful, and talented Rebekah Elena Tillotson. How I found this talented individual? Through Jasmine Star’s Facebook fan page. Again, not the first to say that either!! <3 Now, I already knew she was talented. But once I asked Rebekah if she would allow me to interview her, I decided to do some research so I wasn’t going in with just the thought of a few really good images, and some really great answers to photographers’ questions. A few things I have found out about this great girl:: she’s one of the most passionate people I’ve ever had the pleasure of talking to, she’s so very generous, and probably one of the youngest photographers with talent!! Man, can that girl shoot a camera!! I love her already, and we’ve never even met! I hope to get to know her better, and one day, I will meet her!! For now, I introduce to you, the amazing Rebekah Elena Tillotson!!
What would you like the world to know?
Be positive. Words are full of so much power and with every word you utter you can either add and multiply joy into your life or divide and take away. Your statements, simple sentences they may seem to you, can forever change someone’s life, your outlook upon yourself, and the impressions you make on others. Alter your attitude to your situation if you are unable to change where you are. Choose happiness. If you do not, you are opening the door to take away the joy of another with your negativity.
Can you recall the first photo you took that made you go WOW!?
Most definitely. I was on my first photo shoot with my, then, new macro lens and photographed this beautiful golden flower by the river. I stared at my LCD in awe in disbelief that I had created that image. The background was so beautiful and smooth and the colours so vibrant and rich, the composition really quite lovely..it just seemed so perfect, even straight out of the camera. It would later be combined with the image I took right after it to become “River Flower Diptych”, one of my signature pieces.
I hear you’re only 17. First, is this true?! Lol and second, how did you become so knowledgeable so fast??
It is, in fact, true. I am seventeen years old. 🙂
And as far as the knowledgeable question…well I studied endlessly. Soon after I turned 16 I began working in a local camera store and spent my entire day immersed in photography. I studied every single day for hours on end, very often after work when I was home. But it was more than just reading that helped with my knowledge base. It was my passion. Because of the passion I had for photography, that doe eyed love, I was able to retain a lot of the information because I wanted to soak it up like some sort of sponge. You could sit me in a math class and I could read about equations and formulas for hours but I would not be able to recall any of it because I have no love or passion for the wretched subject: I have a fearful appreciation. But, you know, that’s another story entirely. You have to really love it and have a passion for what you do. That is what will keep you up at 3 am researching white balance, lens sharpness, and exposure compensation.
Are you self taught, or school taught??
I am a combination of three things: self taught, school taught, and mentor taught. I first began, as many of us do, being self taught, and then went on to go to high school classes and eventually tech school for photography.
And when that ended, I took a two month internship. Currently, I attend no classes, programs, or do any sort of interning. For the past 8 or 9 months, everything I have learned has been self taught.
Where is your favorite place to live and work as a photographer in the World and why? (Either a place you’ve been, or a place you’d love to go.)
I love where I’m at right now. Tulsa is really a great place to come home to, but I do not think I will be able to stay here year round. I wish to own my own home here, (being 17 I still live with my wonderful parents) and then purchase condos throughout the world. My plan is to travel the world for large portions of the year and return here, near everything I love. As far as my favorite place to work as a photographer…well, anywhere in nature. I’m really not picky, at all. I adapt.
How does your personality change when you look through the camera?
I’m a very quiet and thoughtful person by nature and this is magnified greatly when my eye meets the finder. And by that I don’t mean I become some sort of hermit or anything of the sort. Having a camera in my hands makes me feel peaceful. It’s a scale of sorts, that weighs out my soul and my mind and makes any bit of chaos form into a quiet tranquility, a perfect balance of introversion of the soul and the extroversion of the mind. And I become a bit hypersensitive to my surroundings. I notice and hear everything because I am constantly looking for the next subject to expose onto the sensor of my camera, especially when I’m out in nature.
Ever concerned about failure?
Not at all. Failure reveals weaknesses that need to become strengths. It is the proof of a chance taken and an opportunity that did not go ignored.
So tell us a little bit about how you discovered photography
Art has always been a deep love of mine. Before I found that my passion was strongest towards photography, I actually did a lot of drawing. I’d always be taking photos with my point and shoot and one day the art teacher of the school
I was currently attending came up to me and told me I should be in her photography class. And from there, it was just an amazing domino effect. I put down the sketch pad and pencils and clung to the camera.
Who are your influences?
I am very influenced by my spirituality. Without it, I’d never be anywhere close to where I am today. It is, without a doubt, the biggest influence in my work as an artist, as a mentor, and as a human being. We try so often to separate those types of labels and compartmentalize different aspects of our lives, you know, but spirituality brings it all together. Our beliefs help shape us and our view of the world, which is what photography is so often about; the immortality of that view. After my spirituality comes my beloved. He is the most amazing and wonderful human being that I’ve ever had the beautiful privilege of knowing… and I love him with my soul. For the heart is quite fickle with it’s emotions and is often swayed, but the soul will always remain. I know that without his love, patience, and kindness in my life, I would be a completely different woman, more than likely one I wouldn’t fancy to be. After my beloved is every other person or thing I’ve come into contact with, tiny little footsteps that leave small impressions on my mind and shape me every day if I let them.
What are the biggest personal or professional challenges you face on a daily basis?
Being passionate without appearing or coming across as jaded. Trying to tell people that MAC vs. PC is a very silly argument, that lenses are not sharpest wide open, gear will only get you so far, and that inspiration is nothing if you do not have the proper skills to adequately express it. I am ever so passionate about helping people get out of this mindset of being wrapped up in the latest and greatest and the trends and trying to get them to focus on the art of image making. And with that people may get the wrong impression that in my passionate statements I might be jaded. This is the furthest thing from the truth. So the second challenge I have is not quieting myself. I’d rather be honest and make a statement that might momentarily perturb someone instead of being a mouse. Because statements, when crafted properly and with the right intentions make people think and question themselves and their situations. What are they doing? How do they feel about this or that? Though I certainly strive to do all of this in love and never in spite or anything of that nature.
What has been the single biggest obstacle against growing as a photographer in whole?
The only obstacle I will ever face in growing as a photographer is myself. You cannot blame failures or personal faults on any person or any thing. The biggest obstacle that I overcame very early on was learning to love my work and myself. And certainly not in some pretentious sort of way. I just know that, from the moment I wake up, I spend the entire day with myself. I must love myself and value myself or I won’t ever get anywhere. Loving my work and who I am has opened dozens of doors for me, doors that I would have otherwise been fearful to open. If I did not love my work, I would feel like a fraud selling it to people. And if I did not love myself, I would not be able to justify the value of that work in the first place. That obstacle has been crossed and I continue to grow every day.
Tell your funniest, scariest, most bizarre, most touching story from a photo shoot!
Funniest: I photographed this really lovely girl one time and my beloved came as my assistant. He is an absolutely hilarious man and kept all of us laughing until it became difficult to breathe. It was really something fantastic.
Scariest: When I was in Las Vegas for WPPI this year, I photographed a complete stranger. For me, this was something very new…especially since I was photographing them face on. There were dozens of people walking past us and I had little time to get the shot I wanted. I was concerned he’d be upset with me, but he smiled faintly at me and even kept eye contact with my camera.
Most Bizarre: I’ve photographed someone who breathes fire. That was really something quite interesting.
Most Touching: On Father’s Day of this year I took the family photos of a young girl who is in the hospital fighting cancer. There really are no words in my limited vocabulary to convey the emotions I felt and continue to feel after those 40 minutes.
A lot of your photos are in black and white. Any reason for the preference, and can you describe what black and white photography means to you?
This is probably the most asked question I hear. And I love it. Color can inspire mood within the viewer, often times a mood that I don’t want to be conveyed. Black and white strips away dozens of emotions and leaves you with the purest ones. It’s sort of, you know, like sifting for a precious stone. You get rid of all the dirt, dust, and contaminants to reveal the treasure. To me, black and white photography is sort of like viewing the inside of a dreamer’s mind, the subconscious. It can’t fabricate.
But, really, it means dozens of more things to me, many of which I do not even know yet. As I pursue the art more, I discover little fragments of why I’m so drawn to it. I’ve yet to know why I love it as much as I do.
Is photography, in your opinion, an art form, and do you consider yourself an artist? Explain.
Oh, now this is the question that really makes me alive. Photography is definitely an art form. But not all photographs are art. I’ll explain:
When you’re on the phone with someone and you’re doodling a figure 8 over and over again, multiple times, is this a work of art? My personal answer is no. It did not require much conscience thought, it was simply an act that was repeated and it didn’t evoke anything. Art is defined as this, “…the process or product of deliberately arranging elements in a way to affect the senses or emotions.” Deliberate. That word is so strong. It means you’re doing something with intention for a specific purpose. So let’s take a look at the stereotypical “Uncle Fred” character. This person has a point and shoot, only for family gatherings and such, simply to just take pictures of what is going on during Christmas morning, Thanksgiving, etc. Are their photographs art?
Yes. To an extent.
You were probably expecting me to say no, weren’t you? I was expecting myself to.
Let’s look back at the definition. “…to affect the senses or emotions.”
Do you think that Uncle Fred was taking pictures just for the sake of it? Or was he doing it because he loved the subjects: his friends and family. His images may not affect the senses and emotions of art critics, industry professionals, or even newbies. But it is art because he put himself into creating the image. His passion, his love for his family, are in those images. His senses and emotions are affected, influenced. Looking at those images changes him. And within every image there must be the photographer who took the image. The difference between a photographer and Uncle Fred is their ability to place a second person, the viewer, inside the image. As Ansel Adams would always say, the photographer and the viewer are the two people within every image. The ability to take the viewer and make them feel what you feel, or what you want them to feel, to evoke emotions in them, is an art form. This, I believe, is what makes art subjective. Because not all of us feel the same things that others feel when looking at certain pieces of art. But many images are not intended to evoke emotions or affect the senses so dramatically. They’re simply meant to document. But this certainly makes them no less an art form for the photographer is often still within the image. To me, an artist is someone who can put the viewer within the image alongside them. Do I consider myself an artist? I do.
I can tell that you are very passionate about what you do. When did this passion begin?
It was awakened when I was 13 years old and still shooting in Auto with a humble Fuji Finepix. My goodness, I really had no idea what I was getting myself into. I wonder if I do even now.
How do you describe your photographic style?
Well I strive for my work to be timeless, though by no means boring. I wish for my images to be very refined and tasteful, but all the while having a sort of dark glamour. I am often a romantic, though I have no desire to create a romance for my subject. I wish to capture them as they are, to photograph them without defining them with some whimsical sense of who I want them to be in my head.
I do not want my work to be a fantasy, but instead a documentation of the natural elegance and beauty in people. It is combining romanticism and reality and never fabricating either.
In my nature work, it is very much the same. My love for nature stems from my childhood, so I try to convey it through the eyes of a sort of innocence that makes the world appear differently than when we normally view it, as we used to view it. I tend to be a bit more of a romantic with my nature work.
How long have you been photographing professionally now?
Well I started my own “official” business in March of this year. I waited a while to start my business. I wanted to do everything properly and have the portfolio I desired.
Tell a little secret about yourself that no-one knows …
Oh goodness. Everyone always asks me this whenever they interview me. Before I know it I will have no more secrets to keep to myself! My secret for you is this: I “borrowed” a pair of my boyfriend’s socks because they’re like tiny pillows for my feet. Darling, if you’re reading this you must understand: they’re just so comfortable and they were laying there in the laundry room just waiting to be loved.
What would you have done differently during your photography career so far?
Absolutely nothing at all. I am very satisfied and happy with how far I’ve come and the manner in which I’ve done it.
How do you feel about digital manipulation and to what extent do you utilize it?
Well if, by digital manipulation, you mean editing I will say this:
I do not like actions for the use of defining a style. It seems that nowadays someone can download their “look” straight off of the internet…but it’s really someone else’s look that they have sold to them and hundreds, if not thousands, of others. But you must understand that I come from the point of view that art should be immortal and relevant for years to come and not tainted by trends. To the photographer who markets on trends they may feel a bit differently about it and this is absolutely fine. I hold nothing against anyone who chooses to use defining actions. Everyone has a different perspective. As I’ve said before, though, I wonder how different people’s work would appear if there
were no actions. The beautiful thing about film was that it was so personal…so much trial and error was involved. You literally placed yourself in your work. And so everything was so different and it was quite wonderful.
We live in this age now where you can “fix it later” and not worry much about the craft, instead using your editing to define you. But definition is not entirely in editing. Definition is in the subject, within your utilization of the elements of art.
In my own work, I create my own actions and edit to enhance what is already there, not to create something that isn’t.
Have you ever had “photographer’s block,” and if so, how do you deal with it?
My love for photography is a choice and there are days where I must consciously make the choice to love photography. It isn’t as though God said to me one day “Do this and don’t ever do anything else.” and left me without free will. I was given the talent to be an artist, but in addition to the talent I was given the free will to develop my skills, to continue to improve. And I am given the free will to choose to love it. It is a commitment that sometimes is very easy and often times subconscious, but there are certainly days where I must make a very huge effort and put much thought into loving it. Often times this has nothing at all to do with the art itself, simply my emotions and thoughts at the time. I’ll be very focused on other things and place my energy into them. As a result, my art suffers and I in turn suffer. Without art I am a shell of myself. So you must find the balance of your energy and decide where you wish to spend it. I will say, after your art goes through a bit of suffering, you will often produce your most beautiful and favored images soon after. At least, that is my personal experience.
What is your favorite photography and/or life quote?
A photograph is a secret about a secret. The more it tells you the less you know. -Diane Arbus
Why are you so willing to help other photographers grow, and learn their field?
My parents have said I have the heart of a servant. I love helping people. I love being able to reach out and offer aid or advice when someone is in need. I love photography and art ever so, but people will always come first. And combining those two passions, people and photography, is the best and most wonderful thing I’ve ever had the privilege of doing. It is just so great to be able to pass on joy to people and help them feel better about themselves and their situation. I remember a time when I was siting beside a photographer as they were going through their e-mails. They sighed in frustration when they came across the ones from newbies, deleting them immediately without even reading them. They said to me they did not have the time to waste on them. That left a huge impression on me and I vowed that, no matter how much I love art, I will never let it interfere with my love of helping others.
What one photograph, if you had to choose, would you keep close to your heart for all time?
Recently I was given the beautiful honor of photographing a young girl who is fighting for her life in the hospital. I captured this image of her looking up at her grandfather and her grandfather looking down at her in her hospital bed, with her frail body and hairless head….it is just so powerful to me. Especially since I created it on Father’s Day. That photograph has shifted everything in my life and made me think about my business and make many changes to my goals and plans for it.
Do you have a favorite photograph/photographer?
My favorite photographer at this time is currently Diane Arbus. An image that is, possibly not my favorite, but one that has never left me, is the Pulitzer Prize winning image of the Sudanese Girl by Kevin Carter. You don’t forget those kinds of photographs.
You are absolutely right. That’s a photograph that haunts myself quite a bit…
What websites do you own/run?
and my blog, http://www.NoireBlanc.com, my personal collection of images and writings.
What makes a good photographer, in your opinion?
I have been asked this many times and doubt I will ever be able to answer it. I do not want any aspiring photographer to read it and view it as a standard which they must reach.
What is in your camerabag?
I have a Nikon N80 film body as well as a Canon Rebel T1i digital body with an external battery grip, eyepiece extender, and Giottos screen protector. My Nikon lenses are a Promaster 70-210 and a Promaster (made by Tokina) 19-35. For my Canon body I have an 18-55mm kit lens stashed away, a 50mm 1.8, an 85mm 1.8 and my ever so beloved Tamron 180mm. All of them with UV filters.
In addition to the expected lens caps, batteries, cards, cleaning pens, etc. I also have colored filters, film, OpTech rain sleeves, and my favorite accessory of all: my Hoodman Hoodloupe. This is all in addition to cleaning supplies and what have you 😉
What was your first camera?
A point and shoot: Pentax Optio E10. And my first dSLR was a Canon Rebel T1i, soon to be upgraded out of a performance necessity.
What is your favorite piece of equipment??
My Tamron 180mm 3.5 1:1 macro lens. Oh it’s such a beautiful little thing. And right next in line to that is my Hoodman Hoodloupe. I love it ever so.
Any advice for those newbies//photographers just starting out?
Never be afraid to ask questions. Don’t focus on two years from now: focus on today. You were made for such a time as this and you have a view of the world no one else has had before you or ever will have. Don’t get caught up in brand names, expensive things, and everything in-between. Focus on expressing yourself and discovering more about who you are with what you have.