Amy Hicks ’11 Getting Handier With Cameras, Travel Docs

By Al Daniel

For several close-ups in her latest and, to date, longest film, Amy Hicks ’11 makes Sean Ruttkay and Ian Balding her hand models.

Riding Wrightsville, Hicks’s senior capstone project at the University of North Carolina-Wilmington, captures a day around the surfing scene at Wrightsville Beach, five miles east of her campus. As the first of three interviewees, Ruttkay discusses and demonstrates his work for EDA Surf Art, which, per its website, is geared toward “holistic water art pieces.”

For slivers lasting five or 10 seconds apiece, Hicks makes Ruttkay’s hands the main or only part of him onscreen as he puts his passion for the ocean onto the canvas.

With Balding, a surfboard shaper featured in the second interview, the mitts are the center of attention for as long as 15 seconds straight.

The final segment, featuring surfing instructor Jack Viorel, features less emphatic zoom-ins, as his job is far less solitary. Nonetheless, Hicks highlights the hands-on learning of Viorel’s students.

“Hands-on” is a common refrain for the creative photographer and videographer. It goes back to her formative years at the Montessori Community School.

“The Montessori curriculum allowed me to explore many different areas of interest,” she said, “which enabled me to foster a passion for the arts. I think the hands-on atmosphere also contributed to this love for creating visual art through tactile sources.”

At times, her latest ventures are less manually involved, at least in the literal sense. Overhead views from her 4K aerial drone comprise substantial portions of Riding Wrightsville. The water, the neighborhood architecture, and the beach in between all get a moment of glory.

Out of state, Hicks has captured similar flying glimpses of California’s desert-laden, mountain-flanked Joshua Tree National Park. Ditto the one-of-a-kind cityscape of New York, which she also documented with some camera-to-eye shots from high-rise ledges, roofs, and windows. She has obtained captivating aerial and ground-level shots of travel destinations on three other continents as well.

But naturally, only the best shots make the cut, and plenty fall short, sometimes due to the equipment plunging. Remote regions can complicate a figurative or literal lift-off altogether.

“My form of art has always been a love-hate relationship,” Hicks admits. “I don’t consider myself the most ‘tech-savvy’ person, but my art form demands it. Technology is always evolving, so trying to keep up with updating programs and gear is a constant struggle.

“When I’ve traveled to these places, the struggle with technology is even more prominent. For example, I’ve had trouble updating firmware without connection to Wi-Fi or attempting to charge my gear without an outlet adapter. I’ve also crashed my drone many times due to poor connection and interference with surrounding rocks in certain locations.”

Internationally, the locals may limit the mission as well. When Hicks went to Morocco, airport security confiscated her drone. Resourcefully focusing on photography, she made sure to explain herself to bystanders before taking candid snaps.

“Whenever I travel, I am careful to respect the cultural differences that I come into contact with,” she said.

Overall, paying that upfront respect is a small sacrifice toward fulfilling the perpetual craving for knowledge her MCS syllabus instilled.

“I think Montessori sparked the adventurous side of me,” she said. “Whether it be having the freedom and safety to explore the grounds at school, or diversity of studies, I grew up being independent and curious about what the world had to offer.”

As another part of her portfolio proves, that includes the offerings of the commercial world. Through her aforementioned independence, Hicks has researched and taken turns initiating or answering calls with various skincare, surfing attire, and snow gear companies in need of photos for their advertisements.

As companies, most of Hicks’s business clients are either younger than her or barely older. These include OSEA Malibu, the first company of its kind to adhere to the Compact for Safe Cosmetics by eschewing potentially carcinogenic additives, and FRÉ Skin Care, which aims, in part, “to promote authentic beauty in motion” and “express positive social values all over the world.”

“I choose the brands based on my values,” Hicks said. “If they’re an ethical brand or if they have some type of initiative in the works, it’s always nice to find a mutually beneficial partnership that you feel good about.”

She added, “Authenticity and genuineness are really high on my list of values. Being true to yourself and those around you are the most wholesome things you can do.”

Outside of her professional pursuits, Hicks notes lasting relationships with intangible perks. Of the eight short videos currently on her YouTube channel, one documents the annual Thanksgiving reunion with her own and three other former MCS families.

Family is key to her other output as well.

“My sister (Shelby Hicks ’09) is one of my main travel partners,” she said, “but my mother was the one who gave me my wanderlust. Going around the world with her has taught me how to travel safely and cheaply, which is a skill I take pride in.”

Hicks’s YouTube channel recounts her journeys to Bali, Indonesia and Cozumel, Mexico. The latter yielded some underwater shots as well as drone and ground-level capture, including some more laboring-hand close-ups.

There is yet more on her Instagram page, which she dubs “my travel blog.” Her online photo albums capture her domestic journeys to California, Florida, and Puerto Rico plus every international excursion. Besides Indonesia, Mexico, and Morocco, Hicks has traveled to Madrid, Spain.

Her country count outside of the United States is slated to double this autumn. Following her mid-May commencement from Wilmington, Hicks is working in hospitality at a Montauk, New York resort for the summer. Her earnings will help fund a September swing through France, the United Kingdom, Switzerland, and Greece.

She has plenty to look forward to stateside as well. The seven-minute, 31-second Riding Wrightsville will be featured at Surfalorus on the Outer Banks over the third weekend of September. It may appear at other film festivals later in the year.

Regardless of how her work performs there, she aims to keep employing its key elements in future projects.

When asked what she would do if she had the opportunity to document a day in the life of the MCS community, Hicks said, “I would capture the grounds by highlighting the beautiful landscaping and open environment. I would incorporate the students and teachers interacting over schoolwork and focus in on the working hands of the students. I imagined this because my time at MCS was really hands-on and active, which suited my learning style perfectly.”

Today, immortalizing images in, on, or around a grand body of water suits her just as well. Transoceanic travel, the adulthood culmination of the virtual global introductions she garnered at MCS, is an evergreen plus.

At a date to be determined, Hicks intends to duplicate, if not top, the captivating shoreline shots from Riding Wrightsville in the opposite hemisphere.

“Even if I don’t pursue film as a career, I will always find time for it as a passion,” she said. “I really want to visit Australia and road trip up the southeastern coast from Melbourne to the Gold Coast, photographing the surf and culture surrounding it.”