Museum Insider

Meet Rick Wicker: Museum Photographer

His photos have graced the cover and pages of your membership magazine for 24 years

and we thought it was high time to introduce you to Museum Photographer Rick Wicker. More comfortable behind the scenes, lending his eye for nature and bringing the inherent beauty out of every person and object he shoots, we grabbed a few minutes with Wicker in his studio in the basement of the Museum.

When someone asks you what you do for a living, what do you say?

I’m not hesitant to say that I’m the staff photographer at the Denver Museum of Nature & Science. I really, really like working here and I’m proud to say that’s where I work. People typically say, “That’s got to be really interesting.” It’s definitely been fun to tell people.

What are you working on right now?

My main goal right now is gearing up for field season. I’m going to be gone for a couple of months, and this year is pretty busy because field work has been on hiatus due to COVID-19. So field season this year is spending time with curators in areas around Colorado, New Mexico and Texas. This year, I have the opportunity to travel to Egypt and Peru. I’ll be going to Egypt with Curator of Archaeology Erin Baxter to collaborate with researchers from the University of Colorado and the Museum of Egyptian Antiquities on Fayums, or portraits painted on wooden boards used to cover the faces of upper-class people in Roman Egypt after they had been mummified. We’ll be doing a couple different photo techniques with these paintings to really bring out the details and allow for a new way to study them. I’ll also be traveling to Peru with Curator of Archaeology Michele Koons to take photos as she continues her work down there.

What’s been your favorite assignment?

I’m so fortunate that I get to do so much cool stuff that I can’t really point to one thing. I love working with collection material in studio, and I love going into the field with our curators and I love being outside the Museum. It is true that I get to do so many interesting projects that I can’t say which is my favorite.

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What is going through your mind when you’re working in those different environments?

When I’m shooting something in the studio, it’s typically project driven. It’s all about the goal of the project – like Curator of Vertebrate Paleontology Tyler Lyson’s turtles for a scientific publication – so there are certain ways that I photograph collection material like that. On other occasions, there’s a need for photos for something like Catalyst and it’s totally up to me how that is photographed in terms of lighting, composition, background. One of the things I like about working in the studio is that I’m completely in control of the lighting.

When I’m working in the field, it’s more challenging – I'm subject to what lighting conditions there are. I can modify that with my gear of course, but I am at the hands of the conditions outside. That makes it interesting and challenging, too. It could be bright midday sun. Or it could be a very cloudy, flat, overcast day and I have to make everything look great. Shooting outside inspires a different kind of ingenuity in terms of how I can make the scenes, people and objects look their best.

What’s your favorite piece of equipment and why?

My camera for sure. The camera is like the quarterback of photo equipment. It’s the one thing I use all the time. I spend a lot of time doing digital work as well, but the camera is ground zero of what I do.

What’s a piece of advice you’ve been given that you always return to?

When I first started in photography at the Museum, I made a mistake and my mentor – the photographer who had been here ahead of me – said, “It’s going to happen. You’re not going to make any mistake that I haven’t in my life.”

I’ve told that to a lot of people, and I still think back to that. You are going to make mistakes, and that little piece of advice made it easier. That's just the process.

What advice would you offer to photography students?

Follow your passion and your dream. There are so many different things you can do with photography. Truly the sky is the limit, especially these days. I almost didn’t follow mine. I did photography in high school and the instructor we had said not to do photography as a living and I had always considered photography as just a hobby. As I got older and started college, I realized I didn’t know what I wanted to do with my life. I did some deep soul searching and I went to a career counseling seminar and I realized I needed to follow my bliss. And that’s when I realized photography could be a career choice.

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Rick Wicker at the Corral Bluffs site. Photo by Bryce Snellgrove.

Why is photography blissful for you?

I am the kind of person who has more of an artistic side than a business mind. I like photography because I’m working with my hands. I may have chaos in many other parts of my life, but give me a camera...

For example, speaking in front of groups of people is a nightmare for me – it's not my thing. But if I have a camera in my hand, I can talk to a huge group of people and not even think twice about it. It’s like a safety blanket in a sense. When I have a camera in my hand, I know what I’m doing, I’m in control and I’m a lot more comfortable. I work on a computer a lot at times, but the thought of having a job where you’re sitting at a computer all day or sitting in a cubicle is not very exciting to me.

Where is the most interesting place you’ve taken photos?

Moscow. As a kid growing up during the Cold War, the thought of even going to Moscow seemed like a pipe dream. All of a sudden, I found myself there for a project and it was a surreal experience for me. We were working in the evenings because the museum we were collaborating with was open to the public during the day. There was one night, [Curator of Anthropology] Steve Nash went to meet a contact he had. I finished shooting at museum, and took my stuff back to the hotel. I found myself walking through Moscow at 11 o’clock at night trying to find where Steve was. As I’m walking by myself, that’s when it just really hit me. I never felt unsafe, I just felt this very surrealistic experience that I had standing in the middle of Moscow at almost midnight by myself and it was just very cool. Especially everything happening there today, the fact that I got to spend time there and meet some wonderful people was really a great experience.

What was the project that brought you there?

The Konovalenkos – sculptures that portray scenes from everyday life in Russia. They’re done by a Russian artist that came to the United States. We have a collection of them here, and one of our curators decided he really wanted to delve into their history. We traveled to numerous places around the world to photograph these sculptures that ended up in a book, “Stories in Stone: The Enchanted Gem Carvings of Vasily Konovalenko.”

Anything else you’d like to share with Museum members?

I love having a job here that is in a visual medium. The work that I do can physically be shared and seen by members. I see my photos in “Catalyst,” exhibits around the Museum and in different publications. Knowing I get to share what I do and also the objects and activities at the Museum with a wide audience. It’s a very satisfying feeling. I love that.

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