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Artist Talk: Rebecca Tolk on Photo Impressionism and Love of the Forests

Artist Talk – Rebecca Tolk

Rebecca Tolk creates whimsical, poetic painterly photographs inspired by natural landscapes. She leads the viewer into the ephemeral world of dreams and beauty – a safe place to reconnect with oneself and nature. She has exhibited at the Hallmark Institute of Photography, Chicago Photography Center, Brooks Institute, Soho Photo Gallery, and Center of Fine Art Photography. Her work has decorated the Atlantis Resort Bahamas, The Ritz Carlton, and The Doubletree Hotel, among others.

Fine Art Shippers spoke with Rebecca Tolk about the roots of her photo impressionist style, her signature technique, and nature as a source of inspiration.

Artist Talk: Rebecca Tolk on Photo Impressionism and Love of the Forests

You describe yourself as a photo impressionist. What does that mean to you?

Rebecca Tolk: Photo impressionism to me is expressing what I feel, not what I see when creating photographs. I found my creative voice and the possibilities of the blur when I discovered the Holga camera many years ago. This camera has a very shallow depth of field, a plastic lens, and a lot of blur around the edges and in the background. It allows me to go deep into the emotions by enhancing the colors, composition, and texture. In this way, I create an abstraction that reflects my feelings.

Rebecca Tolk. Journey Within

Rebecca Tolk. Journey Within

How exactly do you work with the Holga camera? Can you tell us more about your technique?

The Holga camera is a plastic toy camera. The wonderful thing about it is that it has no technical settings. So you have to focus mainly on composition and be present in the moment to be able to capture it spontaneously. Eventually, I switched from the Holga camera to digital photography and started working with the iPhone, which also has no technical settings and the added benefit of creative apps. This allows me to shoot and edit with a single tool. I explored using lenses on the iPhone that mimicked the Holga. However, that did not quite get me what I wanted until I found a close-up filter for the iPhone, which I now use. However, I use it from a distance to create blur effects. Then in editing, I go deeper and play with textures and colors that eventually shape the artwork.

As a child, you were influenced by your grandmother, who was an artist. What did you learn from her?

My grandmother, Sylvia Tolk, grew up in Long Island NY. She was an abstract painter and sculptor who worked in stone and bronze. After she married, however, she devoted all her time to the family. She taught me about painting and sculpture, but I found I prefer the camera. We talked a lot about composition. The most important thing I learned from her was the artistic perception of the world and the ability to see beauty and meaning in simple things.

Sylvia Tolk. Dancer

Sylvia Tolk. Dancer

You were born in the Washington, DC area, have lived in various places, and now live in Houston. How does the place influence your art?

Bigger cities are not ideal for me. I came to Houston for my partner’s work. Houston is not an inspiring place for me, so it’s a challenge to create art in such an environment, but it’s an interesting experience. Previously, I lived in Florida, and I loved the landscape there. I was enchanted by those oaks, Spanish moss, and the forests. They became an inspiration for a series called “Taming Chaos,” which you can find on my website. The Florida forests allowed me to reconnect with myself. Before moving there, I had been sick for years, and the forest helped me regain my strength.

Is your work mostly improvisational in nature?

Yes. I do not usually start with a specific intention. I play with the camera and the moment, being open to inspiration. As I experiment, I pay attention to what I am drawn to and go in that direction, bringing the artwork into being. Before, I never conceived my works as a series, but now, maybe because I live far away from the forests that I love so much and need for my soul, I have started to formulate a forest and tree series.

Can you share some of your creative plans or ideas – things you’d like to explore?

I have been thinking a lot about trees, which are hard for me to access here. And I had an idea to create a series of large, 10-foot-tall vertical panoramic trees in the photo impressionism style. I made one and put it on Facebook, and a lot of people liked it. I don’t know where this idea will take me. Maybe it will get me out of the city and let me travel and shoot more trees for the series. I do not have a plan. Half the time I am on the road, I don’t know what’s coming. I am drawn to things for reasons I am not aware of. It feels like divine guidance that I follow.

Rebecca Tolk

Photo courtesy of Rebecca Tolk