Art speaks to us all. It speaks to our feelings and our inner worlds. The instant we see a piece of art, we feel. The more impactful the art, the stronger our feelings and responses. Rebecca’s art touches us deeply, opening our inner realms to feel and see with new thoughts.
Rebecca, like all of us, has experienced life’s extremes of beauty, joy and pain. Her story and her art reflect her journey through pain and isolation into love, compassion and connection.
In so many ways, our earliest years are our most formative. In her childhood Rebecca felt unseen and not allowed to be fully expressed as herself. Though filled with creativity, love and wonder, she did not feel free to express and share these gifts with the world. This built a series of internal beliefs which then wove into a false narrative that she carried through much of her life and have impacted her art and voice.
Rebecca’s story and childhood began in Fairfax VA, a suburb of Washington D.C., where she was born and raised. Rebecca led a childhood surrounded in art, yet still felt as though she was not allowed to be an artist. In high school Rebecca took art classes in theater, sewing, metal design, and darkroom photography. She attended college, studying ceramics, drawing, commercial photography, darkroom printing and digital photo editing. After two years she transferred to New York City’s leading School of Visual Arts, yet left before graduating, deciding instead to hone her art in a deeper, more diverse way and follow her passion. After taking a transformative workshop titled “Women's Empowerment and Body Esteem” in 1994 she began to understand that being a professional artist was a valid choice in life and that she could share her feelings through art with others.
This was a turning point for her. With the support of the women in the course Rebecca began a fulfilling career as a photographer for women. Shortly after this she began taking wedding photos and photographing children at her client’s requests. New clients sought her out from referrals and from seeing her work showcased in various prominent venues. Her ability to bring the essence and inner joy of her clients into images produced a wide following.
In 1997 she attended a color darkroom course at Northern Virginia Community College to expand her color photography. Here she discovered the Holga camera. After using the camera and developing her first roll of images she was transformed. Her first look in the darkroom hit her viscerally – a connection felt in every cell of her body. She was finally able to capture what she felt in nature instead of just what she saw. In that moment Rebecca discovered her authentic inner voice and calling as an artist.
Through the next few years she transitioned from portrait and wedding photographer to her path as a fine art nature photographer. To reflect this shift, she moved from Washington D.C. to Asheville, NC to commune with the fields and forests exploring the intimate relationships that nature holds. She fine-tuned her skills with the Holga’s unique capabilities and brought forth new ways to see the natural world and the minute beauty that it holds, from the singular to the cacophony. As a natural progression, Rebecca’s signature dreamy timeless style developed as an outward reflection of her inner voice.
In 2009 her work reached Holga Limited and was asked to join “Holga Inspire” - a photographic exhibit by Holga Ltd that was shown across America and internationally from 2009 through 2013. Rebecca was chosen along with 11 other Holga photographers worldwide using this medium. In 2009 at the peak of selling her fine art photography and receiving national and international recognition, Rebecca's world crashed. She began having severe headaches and light sensitivity that stopped her in her tracks. She was unable to be outside and take pictures as her abilities to process basic information from the world around her diminished. Doctors were unable to diagnose her and within a year Rebecca was forced to move back to Washington D.C. for family support and specialized doctors. She was unable to fend for herself nor able to work.
Eventually Rebecca was diagnosed with Lyme disease, endocrine complications and, most debilitating, mercury poisoning. Her healing journey spanned 10 years and was exacerbated by improper prescriptions that led to adverse reactions, addiction and then severe withdrawal that left lasting effects on her body. It took another five years of intensive healing for Rebecca to become functional and self-sufficient again.
This period of life has had an enduring impact on her views of life and her art. From that darkest place of sickness and despair, Rebecca found her inner light and rekindled the spark of passion that brought her back to doing what she so dearly loves. She rediscovered her strength and her true self, now wanting to help others do the same. As such, her body of work today reflects an appreciation of the sacred places we all have in us. Both the places inside where we go to retreat and heal when there is nowhere else to turn, as well as the lust for life in all its outward expressions.
Today, Rebecca has grown and matured.
Through her long illness she has opened and shifted her long-held inner beliefs of being not good enough, unworthy and not allowed to be fully expressed. Through her art she now supports others on their journeys of opening and healing.
“I am alive, connected and free. I love who I have become and how I am able to support others. I love the art I make and the gifts I am able to give with it,” Rebecca says, reflecting on her newfound perspective on her life and photography.
Rebecca’s photographs express a depth of emotion rarely seen and an inner beauty that powerfully shines through. Rebecca’s work and muse is “relationship”. The relationship of a person to their inner self. The relationship of a petal to a flower. The relationship of nature, our world and us as individuals in it.
Love, healing, beauty and the seen vs unseen are her driving passions. Rebecca finds in nature our feelings and needs then reflects them back to us through her imagery in photographs. From the striking to the deceptively subtle her worlds speak to us all. Her art allows us to feel and reflect in the same ways.
“I will show you your inner radiance, your beauty, as art. I will show you who you are right now, the truth of you. Be it joy or sorrow, it will be there for you to embrace and to love yourself in all that you are. You are beautiful inside and out, and worthy of love exactly as you are”.
— Rebecca Tolk