Sometimes it takes a village to make an image.

Or at least some friends that aren't afraid to get into the river on a December afternoon. This image has been living inside my head for about a month.

 

Dance for the River is now officially on the road, opening next at SECCA Febuary 8th 2018. So, the photo shoots officially ended this past summer. But then this image popped in my head and wouldn't go away, plus I wanted to round out my series with a few winter scenes. Thank goodness this first weekend in December was warm, 65 degrees warm. One week later we have 6 inches of snow!

This project has been an incredible journey for me, and this last shoot could not have happened without the help of my photography friends, Dave and Lauren Clark with DesiLu photo and Ward Swann from Outdoor Provision Company that offered to put his beautiful new canoe on the river for me and show up ready for adventure in a dry suit and nylon line to make sure our dancers did not float downstream without a paddle! I think even with the swanky looking dry suit, Ward got cold hanging out in the river for 30 minutes while I waited for the dancers, boat and river to align perfectly.

And of course the amazing UNCSA dancers, Elizabeth and Claire Finfgeld.  I feel incredibly lucky to have so much support for this project. and I'm super excited to add this new work to the exhibit when it opens at SECCA.

Farrah's visit

Farrah has been popping her head out of the woods more frequently lately. The summer kept her close to the woods and her visits to the house a little less often. But with hunting season open now, she seems to be a wanting our company more. While we don't leave food out near the house for her, we have put out some feeders hoping to keep her on our property. She's grown so big over the summer.

As I make my way through the field, I see Farrah perk her head up over the wildflowers and buckwheat. Her ears turn into my direction, listening for my voice. “Hey girl, pretty girl”. Her ears twitch, then her tail starts to wag a little quicker. She heads toward me.  We walk through the buckwheat, I stopping along with her as she nibbles at the leaves. We catch up on the gossip from the forest, then we simply take comfort in the silence and just settle in with each others presence.
We keep each other company until the lightening bugs circle around us and the fog moves back to the river. When we both decide we’ve had enough, we part into the darkness, her to the woods, and me to the house. We know that we belong to different worlds but we are connected to both through this friendship.

If you'd like to see this story from the beginning, please visit: http://christinerucker.com/blog/2017/5/10/wild-love

Dance for the River Summer Series

It's been a busy summer and the Dance for the River series is about wrapped up and I'm already thinking how hard it will be to choose only 25 images to build the exhibition this fall. It's been such a journey to explore this river with the dancers and with our Yadkin Riverkeeper, Will Scott. I've learned a lot about threats to our river and the importance to make a stand in some way for clean water. It's a gift that should be protected.

My first of three shoots began inside a 3' pipe kneeling in a trickle of water that is the beginning of the mighty Yadkin.

The trickle flows out of the pipe into a small creek surrounded by a road crew doing a major expansion on Hwy 321 in Blowing Rock.

 

The creek becomes a river as it joins the Tailwaters at Kerr Scott Dam where it becomes the drinking source for Winston-Salem.

From the Tailwaters it travels through Ronda and Elkin, once a hub for many textile industries and mills along the river. I was chasing a rumor about cows in the river. A major threat to the river is agricultural run off which causes of silt in the river. I didn't find any cows bathing in the river on this float, but I did find new home construction that had clear cut a path through the buffer of the river. Buffers are as important as fencing in cattle in terms of protecting from erosion and run off.

While this section seemed isolated, we had a few reminders of civilization by the intake pipes for the town of Ronda's drinking water.

The last shoot took us under I-85 where the Yadkin River empties into several lake, finally resting in Badin Lake near Salisbury.

So, get out on your rivers and creeks and learn about ways we can come together to protect them.

Carley and Stephen

This is Carley

                                                                                                                                                       And THIS is Carley

And this......................

And this is Stephen

And best I can tell, they are the perfect ying and yang. Carley nearly drown as an infant on this beach, and then she came back to the same waters to marry the man who will always catch her. She loves that Stephen is so honorable, Stephen loves the child like joy Carley brings into his life. I've photographed many, many weddings and it's nice to come away from this one with a renewed faith in love and partnership. Cheers to you both!

Now, meet the rest of the gang:

And ending the evening with nature's own fireworks!

Wild Love

Detached attachment is a sticky line.

Love tends to hook onto my heart easily and when I love back, it’s for the long haul.

So when a starving fawn walked up to me in the yard last September, I felt those hooks sink in and I knew I was in for a life changing experience . I named her Farrah Fawncett. And Farrah was going to teach me to love without expectations.

But I felt like new mom. Second guessing my every decision, wondering what to feed, how much to feed this new baby. When her belly would swell from the fruit and goat milk.. I worried I might kill her.. but a quick google search tipped me off to adding baby gas drops to her milk.

 

Of course I wanted to bring her inside, let her sleep with us and our three dogs. But I also knew that might ruin her chance of staying wild. And I more than anyone, know that being wild is being free. So instead, I made little huts all around the woods near our house. I spread straw under our deck and kept all our dogs.-except our gentle dog daisy- on leashes until I knew she would grow bigger and faster than the pups.

And I fell in love. hard. I’ve had many animals in my life.. I’ve raised all our dogs from pups to old age. But Farrah was different . I felt a crushing weight of responsibility to keep her alive and also keep her free. With the dogs I had a level of control.. but when Farrah left our front porch after eating and went into the woods, control was out of my reach.

I didn’t sleep much on the nights it got into the single digits. But Farrah would be at the door at day break , her fur all fluffed up and looking much bigger than she actually was. When I would her the coyotes howl and yip at night.. I’d get up and turn all the outside lights on. And in the morning, she would be waiting for me by the door.

 

I would try to prepare myself for the morning she would not show up. And those occasional times she wouldn’t be waiting at the door, I would loose hours of my day just worrying about her.. until she rambled up to the house mid day. So it was a tightrope I balanced on .. and I did learn to love without expectation. I learned to love something as much as I could.. then let hope take over.

When I wondered if she was lonely being out in the woods solo, I would look outside and watch her doing hot laps chasing the dogs around the fence. She found a way to play with them on my terms.

She brought a kind of balance into my life that is hard to explain. There was this calmness around the house that her presence created.

One evening I was walking the dogs down by the river. We had just had a big rain and this heavy fog had settled over the river but you could see the clouds turning a deep pink from the sunset. It was as if we were surrounded in a soft cotton candy colored fog. I turned to walk back up the trail and Farrah was standing behind us.As she joined us at the river she was silhouetted  in this amazing colored fog. I wished only for a second that I had a camera.. but then realized it would have taken me out of this moment and taken away the rawness of this experience. Farrah walked the trail with us.. all of us still enveloped in this surreal fog. As long as I live, the memory of that evening will be etched into my mind as one of the most pure experiences I’ve had.

 

 

So She began to take walks with us, then she started to follow me on my mountain bike though the trails. I finally let Bailey, my English Pointer, off leash and she and Farrah would rip through the woods playing a hilarious game of tag and hide and seek. Farrah always won.

She became part of our family. She met all our friends. She even met my mom. And she changed us.

I spent a fortune at Whole foods, because she preferred organic strawberries over the strawberries on sale. She got tired of bananas, so we switched to grapes. She liked honey crisp apples more than the bulk deer apples I could get at tractor supply. She would wait by the chicken coop for me to let out her 7 yard mates, then she would sneak in and eat all their chicken feed. Sometimes I wondered if she thought she was a chicken instead of a deer.

 

 

Eventually she stopped coming every day. Spring was here and the forest was full of new green treats. Maybe she was getting introduced to other yearlings that had separated from their mom. She was becoming more wild. This was my goal all along. She had gotten through the winter. She was still small, but she had filled out.
She was returning where she belonged. But it hurt. And we missed her. When she would pop back out of the woods, I was almost as surprised as when I first saw her. A kind of excitement you might get when you see family member you haven’t seen in a while. A kind of fluttering in  your stomach.

But the weeks we didn’t see her, that fluttering was replaced by a quiet sadness.

As the summer wound down, she started coming into our buckwheat field to graze in the evenings. My office overlooks the river. One evening I noticed that sunset fog drifting in after a storm, so I headed to the river to take a boat out. As I make my way through the field, I see Farrah perk her head up over the wildflowers and buckwheat. Her ears turn into my direction, listening for my voice. “Hey girl, pretty girl”. Her ears twitch, then her tail starts to wag a little quicker. She heads toward me. The fog has now moved up over the field and she seems to want me to stick around for a bit. We meaner through the buckwheat, I stopping along with her as she nibbles at the leaves. We catch up on the gossip from the forest, then we simply take comfort in the silence and just settle in with each others presence.

I decided that it was actually Farrah calling to me instead of the river and we keep each other company until the lightening bugs circle around us and the fog moves back to the river. When we both decide we’ve had enough, we part into the darkness, her to the woods, and me to the house. We know that we belong to different worlds but we are connected to both through this friendship.

I’ve tried to write this many times but could not find the words. Or I thought in writing this, it might jinx her from ever coming back.


But this friendship is not driven by human expectations, I realize I am a guest in a place most people never experience and in my connection to this land, it connects me to her..I know where ever she ends up, she has the love  of her human family, a free love that won't  try to make her less wild. She is just loved and has been given a little more of an advantage to survive.

 

A special thank you to Lauren and David Clark with DesiLu photography, for coming out to meet Farrah and get some great photos of us.

 

 

 

 

Tailwaters to Smoot. An Epic Easter Shoot

THIS IS HOW YOU MAKE LEMONADE

0% chance of rain and nothing on the radar, despite looking at ominous dark cloud in the distance at the put in.

No dry bags. because you know, 0% chance of rain. The first sprinkles were kind of refreshing.

Then Mother Nature let loose all her glory.

So, maybe I didn't get a bucket full of usable images for this project.. but I got a memories I'll always think of every Easter Sunday. I've worked with UNCSA kids many times and I always come away with a sense of amazement of what they are capable of... and now this one may be at the top of my list!

I hope all these kids adventures end as epic! They are amazing!

Narrows Dam

For 90 years, Alcoa owned and operated an aluminum smelter along the banks the Yadkin River, specifically Badin Lake. During that time, cyanide, fluoride, PCB’s, PAH’s and other toxins, including arsenic, were generated and disposed of through Alcoa’s 13 outfall pipes into Badin Lake and outfalls into Little Mountain Creek. Hazardous materials were also buried throughout the community of Badin at 44 identified locations, without liners. Buried waste continues to contaminate ground and surface water around the old Badin smelter.

Now under new stewardship, with Cube Hydro Carolinas LLC, the river has a newpurpose, but Badin and High Rock lake still have a long way to go to heal it's waters from decades of pollution.

My shoot last month with two dancers from Helen Simoneau Danse was a stark contrast to earlier shoots I've done on the Yadkin where water flows freely.

I felt a sense of blocking, but I was also listening to what the space once was before so much pollution and non-organic activity was there. It was as if I was trying to listen to the memory of that kind of spirit. Hoping it was still underneath, hoping it will come back in the future. So I think I was mostly focused on the little heartbeat that I heard there.
— Jasmine Hearn
I felt very small in that space. The energy felt very sickly and I didn’t feel a lot of life coming out of that water. The water seemed to only be moving when humans flipped a switch to turn the movement on. So, today I did feel somewhat stifled in my movement.
— Burr Johnson

The good, the bad and the beautiful. 2016

Life really is made up of little moments, and those little moments can create a beautiful tapestry of community. I took a step back in 2016 and followed stories that had weight to things I felt were important, as well as stories that just made my heart sing. I've realized that we are sometimes removed from people or cultures we don't understand. Black, white, brown and everything in between, we are all part of the melting pot called 'Merica. And my hope this year was to do my best to reflect that through my camera and capture all the little moments that make us a community and connect us.

A traditional river baptism on Hilton Head Island, SC. The Gullah, a civilization living on the Sea Islands of South Carolina have upheld its West African legacy for more than 100 years through cherished traditions in spirituality, music, food and language.

 

A cooking class taught by refugee families, summer concerts, bike racing, explorations in the woods, water fights , a wedding , family gatherings, music, dance, the fair,-Using my camera to reflect all the little moments that connect us helped to created my 2016 tapestry of community photojournalism.

I also launched a new project called "Dance for the River" , which is a collaboration with UNCSA, the Yadkin Riverkeeper and other local dance groups to create an environmental message about our river through the art of dance. 

The Dixie Classic Fair

Women from Syria and Somalia donate their time during a luncheon and cooking class in a West End home in WS, NC

A hug goes a long way when you can't get out of your home very often. Senior Services provides hugs, meals and many other services for the Elderly of Forsyth county.

I even managed to survive a mountain bike trip through the Swiss Alps and come home to find an orphaned fawn that adopted us.

A UNCSA dancers leaps, fluid and beautiful, against backdrop of a Duke Energy coal ash pond that borders the backyard of a Dukeville, NC home. Unlined ponds leaked into the groundwater contaminating many wells in this community. This is part of a bigger series called "Dance for the River"

Biking through the Swiss Alps was no joke. Made me want to take up hiking.

"Farrah", our resident fawn follows one of our guests looking for more treats.

2016 ended with the loss of so many great people and new political challenges to try and understand and navigate. My hope for 2017 is to create stories that give voice to our fears and to communities that we may not understand. I live in East Bend. It's about as rural America as you can get- My hope is to bring some of the stories from here to life as well as continue to explore the lives of recent refugees as they try to make this country home. You don't always have to travel far to try and create change in understanding.

Yea. Tree climbing was one of my favorite past times as a kid too. I still love it, although it's tricky getting back down sometimes.

Preparation for baptism of teenagers at Hilton Head Island, SC

Backstage at UNCSA

So, here's my 2016 in a nutshell. I hope you enjoy and find a little inspiration!

 

 

Hannah and Gus. A wedding story.

When I was in photography school, the first thing we were taught about photo stories is: fewer images are more powerful. In fact, we had find photo stories and tell a complete story in no more than 5 images. That's kinda hard when in the wedding industry "more is better".  When covering a wedding, there are the detail photos,  group photos, wide shots that give you a sense of the venue and of course the candid photos.. which I feel are the heart of every wedding story.  Gus and Hannah were the perfect wedding clients in so many ways, and .. I cannot tell their story is 5 images-  Here are 5 reasons why:

1. As you see, they are adorable.

 

2. Hannah had an amazing sense of humor.

 

3. They were extremely adventurous! with every "melt your heart" image, there's a complimentary image that shows the friendship that seemed to be the foundation of their love.

 

4. They kept their wedding intimate, which gave me more opportunities to photograph genuine connections.

5. They never stopped dancing!! so I cannot pick just one or two of them on the dance floor!

Here's the rest of the story: