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Rebecca Tolk: “Their energy is calming to me”

I love to take long walks, touching and communicating with trees and plants. Their energy is calming to me. I find if I quiet my mind, I am able to hear their wisdom when I am needing guidance. As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing […]

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I love to take long walks, touching and communicating with trees and plants. Their energy is calming to me. I find if I quiet my mind, I am able to hear their wisdom when I am needing guidance.


As a part of my series about the women in wellness, I had the pleasure of interviewing Rebecca Tolk of Rebecca Tolk Photography.

For over 25 years, fine art photographer Rebecca Tolk has created sensitive and exquisite photography experiences to achieve the quality results she is known for. Featured internationally, Rebecca has captured a range of clients from Hollywood actors to Congressional candidates, though her true passion is to explore our relationships with ourselves and with the natural world. Her work is featured in the permanent collection of several renowned institutions including the Ritz-Carlton and The Atlantis Resort.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” better. Can you share your “backstory” with us?

Hi there, I’m happy to be here! So my professional backstory started in 1995 when I launched my photography business with portraits of adults, children, and weddings. But my journey really began in Fairfax, Virginia where I grew up. Like so many artists, I later found myself in New York City as a young adult at the age of 19, just trying to figure out the next step in my life. Not doing well in NYC, I found myself back in Virginia after one year to start my photography career. Then at age 30 I moved to Asheville, North Carolina to pursue my fine art photography. That was a beautiful town and it was there that I really took the time to explore nature in my art, which was one of many turning points. In ’09 I became very sick and everything in my life and career basically stopped. For the first time in my life I was forced to slow down completely, focus on the basics, and sort out what was important to me in the Big Picture. Most importantly, I was able to rebound from that to rediscover my passions and get to where I am today.

Finally, two years ago I moved to St. Petersburg — a major arts hub of Central Florida — for love. Now, with COVID changing our world in so many ways, I have made the best of this situation and still find myself trying new things in my career. My latest exciting exploration has been going virtual with my Remote Portrait Sessions. This whole chapter began with the concept of making the most of this situation by using modern technology and my unique aesthetic to create artistic portraits that help elevate my client’s quarantine experience in a safe way. It has been such a fulfilling process that has actually opened more doors and allows me to connect with anyone around the globe and create something timeless.

Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you started your career? What were the main lessons or takeaways from that story?

One thing I always find interesting is when things come full circle. When I was beginning my photography career and looking for guidance, Rita Hovakimian (of Inspiring Success) women’s group was really important in helping me get my start and feel supported. In fact, many of the women became my first clients. I also participated in her Women’s Empowerment and Body Esteem Workshop, which was an important step in both my personal and professional development. In the years since I have photographed actors, headshots for business leaders, weddings, nature, and children. Recently however, I have found myself returning to my roots with ethereal virtual portraits of women. I have rediscovered where my true passion is and the joy of being true to that. It has always been central to my work, but it is amazing to look back at my over 25 year career and realize that foundation has always been there, right from the start, as a common thread that has faithfully guided and supported me through each phase I find myself in. Now it is like a true coming home that, thanks to virtual photography, isn’t even limited by borders. So the journey continues from where it started!

Can you share a story about the biggest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson you learned from that?

I remember this one time when I was shooting a wedding during my very first year in business. The actual shoot went wonderful and we all had a great time, but then all the images came back from the lab underexposed and grainy. I was terrified. It was such a frightening experience to give those images to the client looking the way they did, especially so early in my career while I was still finding my footing. But once they saw them — they loved them! Needless to say I was stunned.

That wedding is one that stays with me all these years later because I learned that people don’t see the details and composition the way I do as a photographer. They just want to see themselves happy with the emotions present and remember their special event. All of that did come through in those photos, even though I could only see the things I didn’t like as a perfectionist. In the end, you never know what people are going to like, so this helps me keep pushing through and keep an open mind along the process.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

That’s a great question because I’ve been blessed to receive so much support over the years and wouldn’t be where I am without it. The first person who comes to mind, of course, is Rita Hovakimian who I mentioned earlier.

Another is a teacher I had in Atlanta many years ago through the Professional Photographers Association (PPA) when I participated in a lighting course they offered. He taught me a lot about lighting and also pricing and packaging, which was really helpful early on. He also helped me network and improve my wedding services.

Another key connection was my friend Lisa at Northern VA Community College, in a color darkroom class, who introduced me to the Holga camera, which was a breakthrough for me creatively that helped further shape my unique aesthetic.

Oh, and I had this one professor early on at the University of Delaware who helped me learn my way around a dark room. Beyond the technical skills, she also helped me explore sensuality in images and showed me that all my images had an unconscious cohesive poetry to them that was always present. I can now tap into that consciously to refine my art when I shoot and that helps me elevate my craft in a deeper way.

When I look back at these moments I realize that all these people have helped me not only in a practical or technical way, but also in a deeper way that helped me explore and find who I was through my work. So much of my photography is about helping me explore my inner worlds through what I capture outside myself, and that’s part of the magic of it that can connect us all.

Ok perfect. Now let’s jump to our main focus. When it comes to health and wellness, how is the work you are doing helping to make a bigger impact in the world?

At its essence, my work helps people on their healing journey. It helps them see who they really are and helps them connect with themselves. This is now especially important during COVID as we’ve all had more time to ourselves and the opportunity to reflect and journey inward in different ways.

In truth I have always sought to do this throughout my career, even before COVID, but this helps it happen in a new way with new mediums. My mission in life and my career is to bring beauty, to feel it on a deep level, and share that beauty so it can be a healing experience beyond our session.

Can you share your top five “lifestyle tweaks” that you believe will help support people’s journey towards better wellbeing? Please give an example or story for each.

Well, I love herbal tea to calm and refresh my body and mind. Getting to know plants around your home or neighborhood to use for tea is a wonderfully connective experience with nature.

I love to take long walks, touching and communicating with trees and plants. Their energy is calming to me. I find if I quiet my mind, I am able to hear their wisdom when I am needing guidance.

I also like to do things like shaking out feelings, dancing to inspiring music, setting intentions, and expressing gratitude regularly.

All of these things can be helpful to anyone who resonates with them.

If you could start a movement that would bring the most amount of wellness to the most amount of people, what would that be?

I consider my career and life philosophy to be about sharing beauty, helping people fall in love with themselves and, by extension, self-love. This process includes finding beauty in our imperfections and embracing them because I believe there’s really no such thing as imperfections, just a range of truths. Of course, a lot of this is in contrast to the messages that are often put out in society around images. That’s why I consider shooting to be from the inside out. It isn’t surface-oriented or superficial at all. Instead, I encourage embracing inner acceptance and love. To do this my images are centered around and reflect affirmations like “I am worthy, I am enough as I am, I make no apologies for who I am.”

So my movement would be focused on bringing this approach and philosophy to all aspects of our society to change and improve our culture. Can you imagine the difference and impact that would have on generations of children and adults, how we would treat each other? The end goal, as with my work, is to embrace our radiant inner beauty within ourselves that spreads to others, because we really are all inherently beautiful reflections of the human experience, and we just need to be shown that…

What are your “5 Things I Wish Someone Told Me Before I Started” and why?

  1. Mistakes are what help us become who we are. In the long run there are no true mistakes that don’t work for your best interest in some way, it just takes time to see it.
  2. Doing inner work does help your practical/professional outer world. Healing self-limiting beliefs, for example, is important to both your personal and professional journey and will lead to growth and success in both.
  3. Make time to try new things and experiment, that’s okay. The technical side will sort itself out, but keep a fresh perspective and feed your childlike wonder and curiosity — it will lead to magical discoveries and remind you why you started this!
  4. Find who you are and what draws you naturally, and keep building off that. The best things will come to you organically, not in a forced way.
  5. Learn about life through your work and find the joys and lessons in that to better things. Remember that life is a journey! (So have fun along the way . . .)

Sustainability, veganism, mental health and environmental changes are big topics at the moment. Which one of these causes is dearest to you, and why?

These are all important issues, especially at this moment in our society, but mental health resonates the strongest with me. It ties in closely to peace of mind and to my work which is about getting in touch with your inner essence and revealing its beauty. I have been both vegetarian and vegan in the past, but my philosophy has always been to listen to your own body. The deeper message I have always carried forward is be kind, to yourself and others. That goes back to supporting good mental health and self-love. In the end, when we feel good, others feel it too and everyone benefits.

What is the best way our readers can follow you on social media?

My business is connected on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn and we love to share updates, blog posts, and archival images through our social media. We’re currently most active on Facebook. I also keep an active email that sends out 1–2 newsletters a month. You can sign up on my website at the bottom of any page.

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