Questions and Close-ups with Ursula Abresch

Falling in love with a piece of art from Ursula Abresch is easy. Wrapping your head around how she is able to capture such an amazing view of the world is not as simple. So we asked Abresch to tell us about photo-impressionism, her creative process, and the role color plays in her work. As an added bonus, we challenged Abresch to give us a new perspective on some of her favorite pieces of art from Great BIG Canvas. The results were simply extraordinary.

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Ursula Abresch Wallpapers

1. How did you get your start in photography?
When I was a little girl, my father owned a Brownie camera (126 film, b&w). He took few pictures, but those he made are still beautiful today. He let me walk around with the camera when it didn’t have film in it, and “pretend” to make pictures. I did that a lot. Later on, I found an old camera in a box of discarded items. I traded it and my babysitting money for my first SLR, a Russian made camera, can’t remember the brand, that served me quite well for quite a few years. I did my own B&W processing, and some printing. After I got married, my husband gave me a Pentax K1000 and 3 lenses. I still have all of this equipment except for one lens. But mostly I only made pictures of friends and family.
Ursula Abresch Headshot

Photo by Ursula Abresch

My first digital camera, a Fuji Finepix, opened a whole new world to me! I became enthralled with digital photography and in November of 2002 decided I would make beautiful pictures besides pictures of family and friends. At that time we lived in Ottawa, Ontario. On a dismally grey and cold day I was walking by the Ottawa river, and I thought the place was beautiful. I decided I wanted to make pictures that showed the beauty of Winter in the North. At first I mainly focused on the wide natural world, but I soon discovered that I liked the more intimate closeup format. Things just sort of grew from there into what I am doing now.

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Photo by Ron Abresch

2. What is “photo-impressionism” and how did this become your primary style of art?
Steven D’Agostino says,”Historically there is a close connection between photography as an artistic medium and impressionism. Both are contemporaries of each other and both relied on technological innovation that permitted easy mobility. In the case of impressionist painters it was the introduction of tube paint. For photographers it was the Kodak camera. Not surprisingly, photographers began to use an impressionistic approach to their images almost from the beginning.”
In my own words, there’s more to a moment than what you see with your eyes. There are the thoughts at the time, the sounds, the smells, what you touch … and more. All these are real and integral to my photography. It’s the sum that makes the photo.

3. How did photo-impressionism become your primary style of art?
It developed over time. I first became acquainted with the term “photo-impressionism” reading the books of Freeman Patterson. In one of his books, he uses this definition adapted from Merriam-Webster’s Dictionary: “The depiction in photography of emotion or character by details intended to achieve a vividness or effectiveness more by invoking subjective and sensory impressions than by re-creating an objective reality.”
So Gentle, So Furious

I was influenced by the work of Freeman Patterson and Courtney Milne, and maybe a bit by Art Wolfe, but I think I mostly I followed my own instincts, my way of thinking and seeing and feeling. I study and look around continuously, not only at the work and thinking of other artists, but also technical books. I try to be very good at the technical side of photography so that I don’t have to worry about it and can instead concentrate on the artistic part.

4. What is your process for creating a final piece of art?
I don’t have much of a set creative process. I love exploring themes, subjects, places, over and over, to get to know them intimately, and to try and bring out the best in them with my photos. I am experimental, and allow myself to try whatever catches my fancy at the moment.
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Photo by Ursula Abresch

More specifically, using abstract landscapes (water closeups) as an example, I have a studio setup that I use over and over. I set up, shoot a few test shots to get the exposure right, and then start experimenting, sometimes freely, sometimes with an idea in mind. An idea can be things such as, “I want to create landscapes that remind of the paintings by Lawren Harris (Canadian painter, Group of Seven).” Or, “I want to create pictures in a colour scheme and overall feel similar to Turner.”
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I then will go on to move things around to create what I have in mind, or, if something else starts happening, go in that direction. After that I upload the pictures to the computer, go through them quickly, and mark those that strike me as keepers. After that I revisit pictures over time and pick out those that work, and process them. The processing weeds out a lot of pictures that seem to work, but in the end don’t. What’s left after all this is what I use for my portfolio.

4. What do you think is the hardest part of your process?

Plateaus. We all reach them and sometimes they are comfortable places to stay. But they also are demoralizing, in so much that it feels like there is nothing left to do that hasn’t been done before. At times I get a little like Don Music from Sesame Street–I feel like banging my head on the tripod and just giving up. But I love photography and I keep going.
So Gentle, So Furious

5. How does color come into play when deciding what to shoot or how to edit?
I treat colour as a subject and as essential for the creation of a photo. I think my mind works in colour and what colours are available in any situation are primal when deciding what to shoot and edit and keep. I have talked to a number of black and white photographers trying to figure out how they think. So far it hasn’t made much sense to me.
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Photo by Ron Abresch

6. What colors are you in love with?
Natural colours that bring to mind water and light and space. I tend to use secondary colours more so than primaries, except for blue, which I use a lot. But even with blues, my blues tend to be watery, slightly to the green, hardly ever “pure”. I have a lot of gold tones in my pictures, to my eyes they are the perfect complement to the watery blues. I love oranges and greens. But I am most drawn to blues and golds.
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7. Do you have a final look for a shot in mind before you start shooting?
I often plan ahead but frequently the reality of a situation makes me change plans. I will go out or work in studio with a specific idea in mind or a subject I want to capture but then I find something different and go off in that direction.
I think in general I would like to be planned and always have end results in mind but I naturally like to experiment and tend to work spontaneously. I think these tendencies work together for me, to my advantage.
So Gentle, So Furious

8. What are you doing outside of photography?
I am the Director at the local art gallery in Trail, BC named The VISAC Gallery. I get to meet and talk to a lot of artists that work in all sorts of fields: pottery, painting, print-making, sculpture, jewelry making, wood-carving, paper-cutting, drawing, collage, theatre, all sorts of music, and so on. It can be tiring to talk to artists but it is also very enjoyable and sometimes inspirational.
I love classical music, books on tape, and watching movies. But mostly I love being outside. I love going places and just looking around. I like to snowshoe, cross-country ski, hike and kayak. I dream of summer when my husband and I can go camping and backpacking in the mountains. I love the mountains!

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Photo by Ron Abresch