The Register-Herald, Beckley, West Virginia

Sunday Profile

November 10, 2013

Photographer is tuned into beauty

Some sages may tell you that the world is more beautiful when it’s beheld from a safe distance, that space is a safeguard for peace and that remoteness promises wonderment.

But Ed Rehbein wordlessly invites gazers to forget the stability of aloofness and to instead become awed by the inherent creativity that the natural world displays in minute detail.

Rehbein, a former geologist and retired pastor of Church of Christ in Beckley, is an award-winning author who is internationally and nationally recognized for his landscape and natural photography.

He’s a juried artist at Tamarack and his book with co-author Randall Sanger, “West Virginia Waterfalls: The New River Gorge,” won USA Book News Best Book Awards in the Best Nature Photography category and was an award-winning finalist in the International Book Awards.

His work has appeared in the juried shows Best of West Virginia 2009 through 2013 (Tamarack), The Bascom (Highlands, N.C.) and the West Virginia Culture Center (Charleston) and Beckley Art Group.

Lately, Rehbein said, he’s focused his eye on “micro” images.

“A pivotal moment for me was when I took my first wildflower shot and knelt down and ... realized the potential was there for me to capture even small details. So I started doing a little bit of wildflower photography.”

Although his landscape photography — images of waterfalls, fields and other beauties of the natural world — still comprises the majority of his portfolio, Rehbein’s current focus on capturing images of wildflowers from a close angle is a renewing way of looking at the world.

He said the camera is like having a “second pair of eyes” and that photography has tuned him in more acutely to the beauty of the natural world.

“There were a couple times I looked through the viewfinder, and I said, ‘I can’t believe human eyes can actually view this sort of beauty,’” said Rehbein. “It is more than an artistic expression, it is a spiritual connection, a spiritual process, and in a way, I think that the more I think and feel in those terms, the better the photograph is.”

Rehbein’s way of looking at the world can be breathtaking, from the golden revelry of “Diva,” a flame azalea, to the curling, vibrant orange Turk’s-cap lily in “Crown Him with Glory” to  the violet-striped great lobelia in “Longing” and the life-like butterfly and a smaller insect perched together on an ox-eye daisy in “I’ll Fly Away.”

He said his love of nature inspired his first career as a geologist.

“I had an inclination for science, but this was science in the outdoor ‘laboratory,’” he said. “I’ve always had an attraction to nature and the beauty of nature, and I think photography just refined that and enhanced it and made it a way for me to express my love for the beauty of nature to others.”

He left geology to pastor a church at age 40. Now retired from the pastorate, he’s returned to his love of nature, but this time he’s viewing it through his camera lens.

Although he’s combined his knowledge of science and photography in recent work (writing in West Virginia South about the Falls of Hills Creek being the result of a geological formation), he’s now pursuing the natural world primarily from an aesthetic angle, he said.

“Very definitely, I’m into the beauty of it and trying to express it in ways that the viewer can readily identify with what I’m seeing and feeling,” he said. “The important thing, really, is kind of a passion and being able to express what I feel as I photograph.”

His Christian faith has influenced the way he views nature, said Rehbein, who believes that creation is an expression of God.

“The natural world is where we see through into the window into the goodness of God,” said Rehbein. “The violence and flawed nature of man becomes evident through his actions, but they are not what God intended us to be, and that’s why He put in a way to restore us to our natural perfection, through Christ.”

“Dawn the Third Day,” a photograph recently displayed at Tamarack, exhibits the way Rehbein sees spiritual themes in the natural world.

“It’s about this tree that is out in the middle of Dolly Sods, and it’s 90 percent dead,” Rehbein said. “You can kind of see the gray, bleached wood, but there are a few remnants of life, fresh growth from the top, and to me, it’s the ‘resurrection tree,’ it shows the death but at the same time, issuing from the death is life.

“To me, it’s the death of Christ, but also the rising of Christ,” he added. “I do see a lot of spiritual images in the things I make.”

Rehbein sees no contradiction between his scientific background and his spirituality.

“I just didn’t, as a geologist, necessarily connect the dots to the Creator, but later in life, as I became a Christian, it became evident to me how everything we see has such intricacy and such design and is inherently beautiful.

“And it doesn’t have to be,” Rehbein explained. “Every time I go out, I’m surprised by the prolific nature of God’s beauty and the way it is cast upon the earth in such quantity that it’s stunning. It’s always an adventure.”

Rehbein said part of the delight in capturing natural images is the discovery.

“I’ve found some of the most beautiful flowers right on a road bank, and beauty in places that really just wouldn’t be considered beautiful or where you wouldn’t go out and look,” he said.

Rehbein’s love of nature is shared by his wife, Phyllis, a calligrapher.

“She will sit down and identify a wildflower while I am taking photographs of it,” he said. “If I was doing a waterfall and spending a lot of time, she would get a sketchbook out and sketch. It’s one of the most important things we’ve shared together, going out in nature.”

His photographs may be viewed at www.wvscenicphotography.com and on Facebook at “Ed Rehbein Photography.”

Prints are available at www.OUR-WV.com.

— E-mail: jfarrish@register-herald.com

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