John Wimberley Biography
John 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 a woman underwater, photographs of old mining camps in Nevada, and photographs of ancient 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, Wimberley leads a workshop titled Sight and Insight in which he teaches his preferred methods for selecting photographic subjects.
His photographs have appeared in over 100 exhibitions, multiple international publications, and are represented in more than 900 public and private collections. In 2010, Wimberley received the Oliver Award from the American Rock Art Research Association for his self-published book of American Indian rock art titled Evidence of Magic. During 2011, Wimberley was one of eight photographers selected to participate in the first ever exhibition of American landscape photography in Russia.
Life and Work
John Wimberley was born in Paget, Bermuda and in 1948 moved to Alameda, California 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 suddenly 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.” In August 1963 he enlisted in the United States Navy.
During his service in the Navy, Wimberley achieved the rank of Second Class Petty Officer, 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. 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.
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.
In 2004, Wimberley relocated to Ashland, Oregon where he resides with his wife Marion.
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 processed 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 spiritual dimension that can be perceived and communicated to others.” 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 working with the forgotten photographic developing agent pyrogallol. In 1977, Petersen’s 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 required to best communicate what I needed to communicate.” WD2D is similar to other pyrogallol-based film developers in that it promotes high acutance 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.
Wimberley photographed on the North and South islands of New Zealand during November, 1985. 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 quit his job as an electronics technician in 1981. He had no savings at the time but was able to support himself by selling prints of his photographs. Since 1981, he has worked full time as a photographic artist, living primarily from print sales through art galleries. Wimberley has continued throughout his career to create black and white landscape photographs, but after 1980 he also explored other genres of photography.
From 1981 to 1982, Wimberley produced a series of figure photographs with a female friend in a swimming pool. Wimberley says, “She called to ask if I wanted to go swimming and I told her I was going to photograph her in the water. I’d never had that thought until that moment, and it greatly surprised me. It was a command and who was I to ignore it?”
Wimberley’s photograph titled Descending Angel is a part of this sequence of figure photographs. Since 1981, Wimberley has sold more than 700 signed prints of this photograph, making it one of the most successful images in the modern photography art market. Regarding Descending Angel, Wimberley says, “The six toes on her foot in the picture is an affirmation that we indeed live in a magical universe. Her physical foot only has five.”
Nevada Mining Camps
During the 1990’s Wimberley was drawn to photograph abandoned mining camps in the state of Nevada. Wimberley visited and photographed literally dozens of the old camps, resulting in a body of work that explores tangible remnants of human greed in the landscape. The resulting pictures were named for the valleys within which the camps are located.
American Indian Rock Art
Wimberley has a longstanding interest in American Indian shamanism. This interest, combined with a chance encounter in 1999 with a panel of American Indian rock art, or petroglyphs, led him to focus almost exclusively on photographing these precious remnants of mostly forgotten cultures and people.
In 2000, Wimberley began photographing rock art in the desert area in and surrounding the Pahranagat Valley of eastern Nevada. Wimberley has also photographed rock art in the Mojave Desert near Barstow, California, in southeastern Oregon and at many other locations within the Great Basin. The majority of sites where Wimberley photographed rock art are remote or not open to the public. For this reason, most of the petroglyphs depicted in his photographs have been seen only in archeological research papers, if at all. Due to the necessity of not revealing precise locations, the pictures are named after geological feature within 40 miles of the sites.
Because many petroglyphs are very faint images on the surface of rock, the contrast range of the photographs 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 by Steve Anchell.