ARTS: Magical Moments
Bobby Wheat stands in the dark, waiting for that moment when the sun slips into the sky. The black cloth from his 4×5 large-format camera covers his upper body, providing some warmth against the pre-dawn chill. A tripod supports the camera, which is super-glued in the middle and has holes in the bellows that stretch between the lens and the viewfinder. He can smell the rain on the horizon and can hear the wildlife waking up around him. His goal is to capture all of this on a two-dimensional image, to bring the viewers of the image to this time, to this place, to this one perfect moment. Suddenly the sun is there, and the artist recognizes the instant when magic happens. Click.
“My goal is to capture the beautiful moment at the moment when it couldn’t be more beautiful,” said Wheat, former Edmond resident whose photography gallery is one of Las Vegas’ newest and most successful. “In photos, people aren’t there to see and to hear what I do, so I have to take the viewer into the scene in a different way by capturing a truly magical moment.”
Visitors to the Bobby Wheat Gallery in Tivoli Village, in the heart of the west retail district in Las Vegas, would agree Wheat is successful at doing just that. The breathtaking scenes of nature show a clarity and vision that have won 29-year-old Wheat seven international photography awards, and have allowed him to make a living out of his passion, which began when he was a child going on road trips across Oklahoma with his dad. One particular trip extended beyond the state’s borders, to the Colorado Rockies, the Pacific Coast and the Southwest desert. “I wanted to have some ownership of these grandiose places and the best way to do that was through my photographs,” Wheat said.
Wheat grew up in Oklahoma, and attended both Oklahoma State University and University of Central Oklahoma. He met and married his wife, Haley, in 2004 and the couple lived in Edmond where Wheat served as music ministers for both Acts2 and New Covenant United Methodist churches. They then moved to Jackson, Wyoming where Wheat began teaching elementary school. It’s also where mentor photographer Scott McKinley took the time to advise and instruct Wheat, turning him on to vintage film cameras, following in the footsteps of legend Ansel Adams by using old shooting techniques with new printing technology.
Tired of the long Wyoming winters, the Wheats moved to Las Vegas, where they continued to work as teachers while Bobby dreamed of opening his own gallery. That dream came to fruition in April. Now he spends his time with his family, especially his daughter Eisley, and enjoys being immersed in the world he loves. His latest work, the Caribbean series, was released at the end of September, and portrays a lighthearted feel of the ocean. “When you see (the right image to print), you just know it. It captivates you. A moment that will never happen again,” Wheat explained.
The Death Valley shoot was one of Wheat’s more memorable. He was leaving a Wyoming winter and anticipating desert climate, so brought only jeans, short-sleeved shirts and flip-flops. However, the temperatures were uncharacteristically cold, and Wheat spent the three-day-trip eating nothing but bananas and granola, and freezing in his car at night. But out of that trip came an image of a tumbleweed sitting high on a ledge in Antelope Canyon, Arizona captured in “Fiery Altar,” and the crossed paths of two mysterious moving rocks in his black-and-white image taken in Death Valley entitled “Serendipity.”
Wheat’s favorite piece remains “Out of the Ashes” — a forest scene shot in Bridger National Forest in Wyoming. More than 1,100 acres had been destroyed in a 2003 fire and this scene of scorched trees surrounded by the brilliant oranges, yellows and greens of new ground foliage shows the refinement process of nature, Wheat said, showing “that beautiful new life and growth come from pain.” Wheat uses the finest grain and highest color saturation film, metallic paper and even olive wood frames. He also limits his pieces to 350 prints to maintain exclusivity, he said.
Wheat just finished a photographic trek through Zion National Park in Utah, and is constantly searching for places and things that inspire him. He is also finalizing a business plan that includes new gallery locations.
“I want to continue to make a living at what I love to do,” he said. “I want to use my resources – my talents and skills — to inspire others, to draw them into the bigger story. To show them there is life outside of themselves.” To learn more visit www.bobbywheat.com.