Photos courtesy of Walt Stricklin.
Walt Stricklin sits in a booth at the Moss Rock Festival. Stricklin said the Moss Rock Preserve is one of his favorite places to shoot.
Walt Stricklin calls it his “back road rambling.”
The Hoover photographer will take the interstate on the way to his destination and two-lane roads home. Anytime he sees a church sign, he’ll investigate. The product of the ramblings? Photos of country churches in 3D, laid out on multiple panels. Several different photos are laid out on panels to create one larger, remarkable image in 3D that jumps out of the frame.
“This is how I see it in my head,” he said.
Stricklin is currently working on a project photographing churches. His roots in the church run deep: his father was a country preacher, and Stricklin grew up opening the doors of the church where his father preached. He attended Tennessee Temple University in Chattanooga but didn’t get his degree.
“I had all I could stand of the two-facedness about being Christian,” Stricklin said.
He and his father were good friends until he quit going to church, he said.
“We didn’t see eye-to-eye on a lot, including religion,” Stricklin said.
Despite that, Stricklin’s photographic eye still admires the architecture and simplicity of country churches. Stricklin’s projects run aplenty, and his work was featured at the Moss Rock Festival in November.
“The festival came to my attention because of what I was doing at Moss Rock,” Stricklin said. Once a week for an entire year – and yes, Stricklin made it all 52 weeks – he would take photos at Moss Rock.
“I wanted to see the seasons, and see the changes,” he said.
It was his first big, cohesive project with “scapes” – what he calls his particular brand of photography that captures land, cities, and people.
“It gave me a chance to watch a wonderfully quiet place in a city,” Stricklin said. “My favorite time was as close to sunrise as I could get my butt out of bed.”
Stricklin shot photos of boulders at Moss Rock through the four seasons, and one in particular, named Ozzy, was his focus. The photos of Ozzy became the work “Ozzy Through Seasons.”
Stricklin found photography when he enrolled at Tennessee Temple University on the GI Bill. He had a full ride for 16 hours, but was only registered for 12.
“I was looking for a course with four hours, something that I would enjoy,” he said.
He enrolled in a photo course so that he would get to use a camera.
“It changed my life,” Stricklin said. “I learned the magic of photography – wet trays, the magic of watching film come up in the darkroom.”
Thanks to his four years of service, Stricklin was already 22 or 23, he said, when he started college. His professor connected him with a job at the afternoon paper in Chattanooga for someone to process and print film.
“They knew nothing about journalism, much less photojournalism, but it was a foot in the door,” Stricklin said.
He stayed there for five years before applying at a paper in Jacksonville, Florida. When he called about the job, they said they thought they’d already filled the position, but Stricklin was persistent.
“I said, ‘Don’t fill it until you see my portfolio,’” he said.
He got the job – and was a finalist for the Pulitzer Prize during his years there, in 1982.
He and writer Phil Kloer delved into participatory journalism and became hospice volunteers helping the Jaquette family, whose patriarch, Jack, was dying from prostate cancer.
“We took the training, all three weeks,” Stricklin said.
Stricklin’s responsibilities as a hospice volunteer included helping the Jaquette family in various ways — “If mom needs to shop and needs someone to watch the kids, I watch the kids,” he said – and the family agreed to let him into their fold.
Jaquette was paralyzed from the waist down and initially skeptical of Kloer and Stricklin.
“Jack looked at me and said, ‘So you’re the vultures that are going to watch me die,’” Stricklin said. His response? “I’m going to watch you die whether I take photos or not.”
After that, Stricklin and Jaquette became close.
“I was never asked to not shoot a photo,” he said.
At Jaquette’s funeral, Stricklin was in the back shooting general shots. A lady told him what he was doing was “so disrespectful,” and Jaquette’s widow, Belle, left the front pew of the church and pulled Stricklin up to sit with the family.
“She said, ‘Shoot whatever you want,’” Stricklin said.
It earned him a spot as a finalist for the Pulitzer – but “the Pulitzer was never my goal,” he said.
His career took him to Providence, Rhode Island, Atlanta, and back to Chattanooga before he landed in Birmingham in 1998 as the director of photography for the Birmingham News. He stayed there until 2012.
In 2008, Stricklin said he saw the possibility of the demise of the news industry and he wanted a backup plan. Inspired by the work of David Hockney, Stricklin began focusing on still photography. Hockney’s work — specifically “Pearblossom Highway” — inspired Stricklin to build photos out of individual images. He shot photos and made them overlap.
“It’s more than point and push, it’s more than finding great light,” Stricklin said. “It’s more than a single image — it’s looking wide.”
Stricklin also builds his frames.
“I consider the frames a part of the artwork,” he said. “Frames give feeling, and they amplify the image of the photo.”
Stricklin shoots the gamut, from people to environment to weddings. He said he doesn’t have a favorite genre to shoot and that he doesn’t choose his subjects.
“They choose me,” he said. “I drive around looking, actively searching, actively thinking ‘how can I make this into a scape?’”