He just retired from a successful 55-year CPA career, but odds are Tom Wicks’ photography will leave a more lasting impression than his tax returns.
Story by Jim Hays, Photos by Tom Wicks
Tom Wicks remembers the time he got into an underwater tug-of-war with a shark.
Clad in scuba gear and using a camera in a watertight housing, Wicks was making some of his breath-taking, colorful nature photos in tropical waters when he found himself close enough to count the fish’s teeth.
“He was just looking for something to eat,” Wicks says, quickly pointing out that this particular shark was no man-eater and was less interested in the photographer than his equipment. Still, it was a heart-quickening moment.
“I JUST LOVE UNDERWATER. IT’S A FASCINATING ENVIRONMENT TO EXPERIENCE. YOU NEVER KNOW WHAT YOU MIGHT ENCOUNTER OR DISCOVER.” — Tom Wicks
“He grabbed hold of my camera and swam away with it, but he dropped it when he realized he wouldn’t be able to eat it,” says Wicks, who has been on many shark dives and allows that he would definitely avoid some of the species.
“It’s like being around a dog except you’re underwater,” Wicks says. “You see them, they see you and they basically want to check you out.”
It was one of the more unusual encounters of Wicks’ decades of taking his camera into the wild, and not-so-wild, to capture exquisite images of landscapes and seascapes; of animals big and small, terrestrial and aquatic, familiar and exotic, in repose and in action.
“I enjoy taking photos and trying to capture with the camera what my eye is seeing and producing an image that conveys that vision and emotion,” Wicks says.
It’s been a respite from his day job as a founding partner of Wicks Emmett LLP, the venerable Roseburg accounting firm that he took over in 1968. This past spring, Wicks decided that this tax season — his 55th as a certified public accountant —would be his last.
“At 75 or whatever, I’ve decided to take early retirement,” he says.
No sooner did he walk out of his firm’s office on Northeast Winchester Street, however, than he jumped into his hobby with a new purpose.
He’s reworking his photography website — www.wixpix.net — where many of his best shots are displayed and sold.
“I ENJOY TAKING PHOTOS AND TRYING TO CAPTURE WITH THE CAMERA WHAT MY EYE IS SEEING AND PRODUCING AN IMAGE THAT CONVEYS THAT VISION AND EMOTION.” — Tom Wicks
“I’m trying to get it more organized and updated,” he says. “In the last four or five years, I haven’t done much with it. I’ve got someone to help me do a lot of reformatting and, in the process, I’m choosing some new images. It’s going to be more complete.”
If that sounds like no big deal, bear in mind that Wicks is going through the thousands of digital images he has shot over the years and the like number of color slides he made during photography’s pre-digital era.
All that photography has made for plenty of travel to places as remote as Raja Ampat, a group of small Indonesian islands off the western tip of Papua New Guinea, and as close as Wildlife Safari in Winston, a short drive from the Roseburg home Wicks shares with LaVonne, his wife of 57 years, frequent travel companion and occasional photo assistant.
“As I’ve gotten older, what I most enjoy is nature’s creations” Wicks says. “I’m not turned on by cities or architecture; I like critters and creatures.”
He has spent many hours at Wildlife Safari, both alone and as a volunteer helping visitors find the best spots to observe and photograph wildlife in a more natural habitat.
“It’s been a great experience,” he says. “My objective has been to find animals in situations that don’t look like they are in a captive environment.”
The Wickses have toured all 50 states through the years, but have recently concentrated on the West, with Tom documenting each trip. He became especially enamored of Grand Teton National Park in Wyoming and photo ops not only for the spectacular peaks of the area but also for moose, one of the biggest land animals in the world.
Wicks’ more exotic trips were to find subjects for underwater photography, a passion he discovered a couple of decades ago. The Coral Triangle, a large area of that shape running from the Solomon Islands to the Philippines and the eastern shore of Borneo, is a particular favorite.
“I just love underwater.” he says. “Our oceans cover about 70 percent of the earth’s surface and contain 97 percent of the planet’s water. It’s a fascinating environment to experience. You never know what you might encounter or discover.”
Despite his love for it, Wicks says he is winding down his underwater excursions — and not because of sharks.
“I’ve seen a lot of the underwater world,” he says. “There are still some things I want to do, but I don’t want to repeat a lot of trips I’ve already been on.”
One trip he hasn’t done, but would like to scratch off his list, is visiting the waters off Tonga in the South Pacific and getting in with humpback whales.
“I’m on a waiting list to do that trip in 2019,” he says. “It’s snorkeling, not scuba, and the best place to do that is Tonga. I think it will be amazing to be in the water with those big guys.”
And to bring home a few more additions to his online galleries.