John Wimberley

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John Wimberley
BornJuly 1945
Paget, Bermuda

John M. Wimberley (born July 1945) is an American photographer and artist. He has photographed extensively in the American west. His body of work also includes figurative work of women underwater, and a large number of photographs of American Indian rock art.

Wimberley has formulated two black-and-white photographic film developers that are sold commercially. He has also integrated his personal beliefs about metaphysics and spirituality into his photographic work. In addition, he leads a workshop titled Sight & Insight in which he teaches his personal methods for selecting photographic subjects.

Wimberley's photographs have appeared in over 70 exhibitions, multiple publications, and over 500 collections. He received the 2010 Oliver Rock Art Photography Award[1] for his self-published book of American Indian rock art titled Evidence of Magic.

Life and work[edit]

John Wimberley was born in Paget, Bermuda and then moved to Alameda, CA in 1948 where he lived until 1963. At age 13, Wimberley had a boundary-dissolving experience while sitting in a bathtub. Regarding this experience, he says, "I found myself to be the entire universe. After that experience, I realized very deeply that in this life I wanted to examine, if you will, the nature of reality."[2]

In August 1963 he enlisted in the United States Navy.

Early photography[edit]

During his service in the Navy, Wimberley achieved the rank of Petty officer second class, Aviation Electronics Technician. He served two nine month tours of duty in the Gulf of Tonkin during the Vietnam War. During this time, he purchased a camera and began to photograph activities on the deck of the aircraft carrier where he worked as an avionics technician. Wimberley stenciled the word "PHOTO" on the back of his flight deck jacket. This allowed him to photograph on the flight deck of the aircraft carrier during flight operations. Wimberley participated in a Navy-sponsored photography competition and was awarded first place.

In 1966, Wimberley completed his service to the Navy and began to work as an electronics technician in the San Francisco Bay Area. He was part of the engineering team that developed the Smith-Kline Instruments Ekoline 20 which was the first diagnostic ultrasound machine used for medicine. He continued to devote large amounts of time to photography.

Color street photography[edit]

From 1966 to 1969, Wimberley used color transparency film and a handheld camera to photograph in San Francisco. In particular, he photographed the hippie culture that was concentrated in the Haight-Ashbury area of San Francisco at that time.

Landscape photography[edit]

A black-and-white photograph of an unusual cloud formation over Crater Lake in Oregon.
Crater Lake 1977

Wimberley is a self-taught photographer. He used books, experimentation, and persistence to teach himself to expose negatives, develop, and print photographs. His first darkroom was in a walk-in closet in a studio apartment where he developed film in trays on the floor.

In 1969, while photographing in Canyon Del Puerto, California, Wimberley "saw that physical objects, such as trees, also have a tangible and real spiritual dimension that can be perceived." After this experience, he began working exclusively with black-and-white film because he felt that, "black and white photography had the potential to embody and communicate the spiritual aspect of things."

A significant part of Wimberley's experimentation was in the area of film developers. In 1969, he began experimenting with the forgotten photographic developing agent Pyrogallol. In 1977, Petersen Photographic published Wimberley's formula for WD2D, a pyrogallol-based film developer. He says, "When I first made black and white prints I could not attain the tonal characteristics I could see in my mind. WD2D gave me the tonal characteristics I needed to best communicate what I needed to communicate." WD2D is similar to other pyrogallol-based film developers because it promotes high sharpness and granularity while smoothing grain using a dye mask. However, WD2D differs from older pyrogallol-based film developers like the ABC Pyro formula used by Edward Weston because WD2D is designed to work well with modern, single-emulsion black-and-white films.

In November 1985, Wimberley photographed on the North and South islands of New Zealand. In June 1986, he spent a month photographing counties Clare and Galway in Ireland.

In 1985, and again in 1987, Wimberley was invited to exhibit his photographs alongside those of Ansel Adams in two-man shows. Wimberley is the only photographer who has shared two exhibits with Adams.

In 1987, Wimberley licensed the formula for his WD2D+ film developer to Photographer's Formulary. WD2D+ is an improved version of his WD2D film developer. Photographer's Formulary sells a pre-mixed version of this film developer.

Wimberley has continued to create black-and-white landscape photographs, but after 1980 he also explored other genres of photography.

Rock art photography[edit]

A black-and-white photograph of a Native American petroglyph.
Bitter Ridge#7, 2002

Wimberley has a longstanding interest in American Indian shamanism. This interest, combined with a chance encounter with an American Indian petroglyph, or rock art, in Nevada in 1999 led him to focus almost exclusively on photographing American Indian rock art.

In 2000, Wimberley began photographing rock art in the desert area known as the Pahranagat Valley, near Ash Springs, Nevada. He made photographs in this region until 2007. Wimberley has also photographed rock art in the area surrounding Moapa, Nevada, in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California and in the Warner Uplands of eastern Oregon. To date, he has made more than 6,000 photographs of petroglyphs in these four regions.

Many of the sites where Wimberley has photographed rock art are remote, or not open to the public. For this reason, most of the petroglyphs depicted in Wimberley's photographs have been seen only in archeological research papers, if at all.

To reach the remote sites where Wimberley makes rock art photographs, he has modified a 1987 Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro with off-road tires, upgraded suspension and brakes, a bed, a kitchen, and a 24-gallon water tank. This equipment enables him to spend 10 to 14 days in a remote area, with little or no contact with other humans. This method of working is an important part of Wimberley's approach to photography.

Because many petroglyphs are very faint images on the surface of rock, the contrast range of photographs of these petroglyphs must be expanded in order to show the petroglyph image in a satisfactory way. To accommodate this requirement, Wimberley modified his WD2D+ film developer formula to function better when expanding the contrast range of negatives. The result of this work was WD2H+. In 2009, Wimberley's WD2H+ film developer formula was published in the third edition of The Darkroom Cookbook.

In 2005, Wimberley moved to Ashland, OR where he currently resides.

Metaphysical aspects of work[edit]

In interviews, Wimberley has indicated that his approach to photography is based on his animist view of the world. Wimberley's photographs are often compared to those of Minor White and Paul Caponigro because all three are black-and-white photographers who have spoken or written about the influence of their spiritual viewpoint on their work. Wimberley describes his photography as a spiritual practice,[3] saying "For me the function of art is to give form to the spiritual."[4] In interviews, Wimberley articulates several metaphysical concepts that inform his way of working.


Wimberley has said that he sees rocks, trees, and other physical objects as alive. He says that as he began to spend more time making photographs in the landscape, he "came to feel that everything around me had life in it, including those things that we think of as dead."[5]

Somatic states[edit]

In interviews, Wimberley often describes the role that somatic awareness plays in his photography. When looking for pictures, he uses his visual faculties to identify photographic subjects, but he also regards his inner, somatic state as an important source of guidance towards photographic subjects. "If you're paying attention inside, you're feeling your feelings, and you're feeling your bodily reactions it does show up in the photographs and it does add richness. Because you're not just photographing from your head."[6] "If the photographer succeeds in maintaining simultaneous inner and outer aware- ness, he/she has a much better chance of achieving clarity about, and unity with, the subject. The resulting photographs then have a chance to transcend both the photographer and the subject."[7] Wimberley also speaks about cultivating certain emotional states as a part of looking for photographs. In particular, he mentions gratitude and non-attachment. "I cultivate simply being grateful for what is being presented to me perceptually at that moment."[8] "Attachment—the looking for magic to happen—gets in the way."[9]


Wimberley also indicates that dreaming is part of his photographic work. In particular, he uses the content of his nighttime dreams—which often have a pre-cognitive quality—as guidance on selecting photographs. "My dreams at night are the actually the main source of what I select to photograph and how I approach it. The mystery is that often in the dream I will see a particular combination of clouds and light and then go there and it is "actually" there."[10] Wimberley also describes waking life as a dream. "My way of relating to nature is not to conceive of it as separate from myself (out there!), but as a visual component of a dream in which the outside world and myself are one continuum."[11]


Wimberley describes the timing of being present at the right time to make a photograph in terms of Carl Jung's concept of synchronicity. "The art of cultivating luck or cultivating synchronicity is really the core issue in photography."[12]


Wimberley also uses concepts from religion to describe his photographic approach. In particular, he describes his photographic trips as "silent meditations".[13]"In my work in the landscape, the trips are silent. I don't speak the whole time."[14] He also references the concept of awareness, or presence, as used in Gestalt therapy when he says, "I don't find it necessary to print all of my negatives. For me, their main function is to provide reliable, objective feedback on how present I was during the entire process; that is, what parts of myself were involved, and which weren't."[15]

Method of working[edit]

Wimberley primarily works alone in the field. While working with landscape or petroglyph subjects, he usually spends ten to 14 days in the field. He uses a modified Volkswagen Vanagon Syncro four wheel drive van to travel to the sites where he makes photographs. During his photographic trips, Wimberley maintains almost total silence.

Wimberley uses a modified Sinar Norma view camera to make 5x7 and 4x5 large format negatives on Ilford FP4+ sheet film. His camera has been modified to reduce in-camera flare during negative exposures. To accomplish this, he has built a compendium shade that uses custom front masks to prevent virtually all non-image forming light from reaching the film. In addition, he has used flocking paper inside the camera to reduce the reflectivity of camera components like the section of the camera back that surrounds the film holder, the metal frames of the bag bellows, and the part of the lensboard that faces the camera back. Wimberley favors and uses Nikkor large-format lenses almost exclusively. He carries his Sinar Norma, lenses, film holders, and other accessories in a custom-made wood backpack.

Wimberley individually develops exposed film in trays using his WD2H+ film developer. He enlarges his negatives using a Durst 5x7 dichroic enlarger onto Ilford Multigrade Warmtone fiber-based paper. He develops and archivally processes his prints using a personal variant of Ansco 130 developer. He has also modified his enlarger by using flocking paper to reduce the amount of non-image forming light that reaches the enlarging paper, and by using multi-coated optical glass for the negative carrier.

Notable photographs[edit]


Evidence of Magic


2010 Joel B. Garzoli Fine Art, San Francisco, CA

LightBox Gallery, Astoria, OR

Point Light Gallery, Sydney, Australia

2009 PhotoCentral, Hayward, CA

Benham Gallery, Seattle, WA

Viewpoint Gallery, Sacramento, CA

2008 The Creativity Center, Bainbridge Island, WA

422 Gallery, Phoenix, AZ

2007 University of Portland, Portland, OR

Camerawork Gallery, Portland, OR

Paul Paletti Gallery, Louisville, KY

Ryerson University, Toronto, Canada

2006, Santa Fe, NM
2005 John Cleary Gallery, Houston, TX
2004 Rare Images, Mount Shasta, CA

Silver State Gallery, Reno, NV

2002 LensWork Gallery, Anacortes, WA

The Ansel Adams Gallery, Yosemite, CA

2001 David Ashcraft Gallery, Oakhurst, CA
2000 Lightworks Gallery, Sacramento, CA
1998 The Ansel Adams Gallery, Pebble Beach, CA
1997 Mumm Gallery, Napa Valley, CA
1995 Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art, Monterey, CA

Julia's Gallery of Photography, Lexington, KY

1994 Shapiro Gallery, San Francisco, CA
1992 The Silver Image Gallery, Seattle, WA
1991 Seipp Gallery, Palo Alto, CA
1990 Shapiro Gallery, San Francisco, CA

Jackson Fine Art, Atlanta, GA

1988 Galerie Zur Stockeregg, Zurich, Switzerland
1987 J. J. Brookings Gallery, San Jose, CA

(2-man show with Ansel Adams)

1986 De Anza College, Cupertino, CA
1985 The Photographer's Gallery, Palo Alto, CA

(2-man show with Ansel Adams)

Galerie Tabula, Tübingen, Germany

1984 Arizona State University, Tempe, AZ

The Berkshire Museum, Pittsfield, MA

1983 Fitzgerald Gallery, San Francisco, CA

University of Alabama, University, AL

Photography West Gallery, Carmel, CA

Mancini Gallery, Houston, TX

The Photographers' Gallery, Palo Alto, CA

Boston Visual Artists Union, Boston, MA

Museum of Contemporary Arts, Houston, TX

1982 Collector's Gallery, Pacific Grove, CA

Utah State University, Logan, UT

1981 Markham Gallery, San Jose, CA

Pacific Light Gallery, Santa Cruz, CA

1980 Idaho State University, Pocatello, ID

Markham Gallery, San Jose, CA

Collector's Gallery, Pacific Grove, CA

1979 Studio/Performance Gallery, Palo Alto, CA

Image Photo, New York, NY

University of Arizona, Tempe, AZ

Coos Art Museum, Coos Bay, OR

1978 Stanford University, Stanford, CA

Palo Alto Cultural Center, Palo Alto, CA

Darkroom Workshop/Gallery, Berkeley, CA

Coos Art Museum, Coos Bay, OR

1977 Shado' Gallery, Oregon City, OR
1974 New Roses Gallery, Palo Alto, CA
1973 Camerawork Gallery, Saratoga, CA
1970 Friends of Photography, Carmel, CA


  1. ^ The Oliver Rock Art Photography Award
  2. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, 53 - 66.
  3. ^ Gerhard Bock, "Beyond the Picture", The Large Format Journal, Spring 2006
  4. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p. 60
  5. ^ “He captures the soul of the subject”, "Bainbridge Island Review, May 14, 2009
  6. ^ “He captures the soul of the subject”, "Bainbridge Island Review, May 14, 2009
  7. ^ Gerhard Bock, "Beyond the Picture", The Large Format Journal, Spring 2006
  8. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p56
  9. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p60
  10. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p62
  11. ^ Gerhard Bock, "Beyond the Picture", The Large Format Journal, Spring 2006
  12. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p. 59
  13. ^ Gerhard Bock, "Beyond the Picture", The Large Format Journal, Spring 2006
  14. ^ Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, p62
  15. ^ Gerhard Bock, "Beyond the Picture", The Large Format Journal, Spring 2006


Energy and Photography by John Wimberley

Evidence of Magic, Ashland-based photographer John Wimberley uncovers traces of a hidden culture

The Oliver Rock Art Photography Award

Brooks Jensen, Interview With John Wimberley, Lenswork, November - December, 2000, 53 - 66.

External links[edit]