LINVILLE — Sallie Woodring is no stranger to familial tragedy. About a decade ago, in the space of less than two years, she lost both her parents and a brother. Woodring spent the five years following 2008 struggling to cope with the losses.
“In the fall of 2013, I for some reason picked my camera up,” Woodring said.
Woodring said photography brought color, sound and beauty back into the world she had not seen in years, and showed her things she had never seen.
“God healed me through the camera lens and through his nature,” Woodring said.
Woodring is the director of Volunteer Services and Career Pathways for Appalachian Regional Healthcare System. In the wake of the personal tragedy, she reconnected with photography, and is the featured artist in Cannon Memorial Hospital’s Dickson Gallery for November.
Woodring’s passion is chasing nature and landscape photographs, a pursuit that has taken her on a number of adventures in the outdoors. Woodring began posting her photos on Facebook.
“People started asking me if they could buy them, and I was shocked,” Woodring said. “I didn’t think anyone would ever want to buy my photography. It became a passion, the greatest passion of my life that I’ve ever known.”
Woodring seeks out sunrises and sunsets, birds, landscapes, butterflies, flowers, fog, rain and everything beautiful she can find in nature. She will wake up early in the morning to capture summer sunrises on the Blue Ridge Parkway or chase the Milky Way on Roan Mountain overnight.
Through all the joy her adventures and challenges bring her, her faith is the most important part of what drives her to experience the natural world.
“There I find him, hear him, I see him,” Woodring said. “I have a lot of people that say to me, ‘Oh your photos are so beautiful,’ and I always give God all the glory, because they’re not my images, they’re his.”
A Banner Elk native, Woodring uses her local knowledge and time in the area to seek out the scenes in her images, sometimes making attempts for years before she captures what she is looking for. She has been chased by dogs, bitten by horses, and had unexpected encounters with wildlife on her adventures.
Woodring, like many photographers, does not have a single favorite photo she has captured.
“Each picture becomes a part of you, and you know exactly where you were when you took the picture, and exactly how you felt, exactly what was happening. You relive the moment you captured that image,” Woodring said.
Her funniest experience with a camera was when her daughter ran over her foot while taking a photo. She had jumped out of the car to get a shot in Banner Elk when her daughter was startled and pulled forward to avoid another vehicle. Her foot survived the ordeal without any broken bones.
“Thank God I had my big snow boots on,” Woodring said. “’I said, ‘Good God, you ran over my foot!’ and she said, ‘Well you know, an artist has to suffer for their art.’”
In the past few years she has had to learn fundamentals such as manual shooting with the exposure triangle and working with RAW files as she has progressed her photography skills.
Her work can be seen throughout the High Country. A number of ARHS offices in the area have her prints on the walls, and she prays when an installation is made in a medical practice that the images will help bring people comfort and healing. She is installed in some locations in Tennessee, Fred’s Mercantile in Beech Mountain and Main Street Gallery in Blowing Rock.
“That’s been really special, the best part of what I do, is knowing that through the images that I capture God is working in people’s lives,” Woodring said.
Woodring’s images will be in the gallery, which is open to the public, until the end of the month. When she retires, she wants to devote more time to photography and pursue night sky photography as well, which is a time-consuming discipline.
“It’s been a journey for me, a journey back to life I guess you could say, because I was dead for five years,” Woodring said.