Park City Gallery Spotlight // Bret Webster Gallery

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Welcome to our new monthly blog series that will showcase all of our wonderful Park City galleries on a rotating basis! A prestigious and diverse art scene awaits visitors and local art aficionados alike throughout Park City’s historic district and beyond.  

Each month we will be telling the story of a local gallery and the gallerists and artists behind them. For our first spotlight we spoke with Bret Webster, whose gallery is located on 312 Main St. As you make your way down historic Main Street, it’s unlikely that his vibrant photographs won’t catch your eye and lure you inside to take a closer look at the dramatic shots of local Utah beauty and even some far off lands. He’s an internationally renowned photographer who’s images hang in U.S. Embassies and Museums around the world, representing the American West. On a warm afternoon in early May, we sat down with Bret in his gallery and discussed his past career as a chemical engineer and how it affects his work today, what inspires him, and more.

Arts Council: Where are you from originally?

Bret Webster: I learned to ski at Park City and grew up nearby in the Davis County. I’ve always loved the outdoors here in Utah and I’ve always taken photos of the area, even when I was a boy, but I am also a chemical engineer and I had a wonderful career with that.

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AC: When did you transition into photography full time?

BW: I started photography some time ago and got a little more serious about 15 years ago. I would do 2 or 3 art shows a year, and they were fun, but that’s all I had time to do. I was one of the early photographers doing night time and galaxy shots as equipment to do that became more available. Then all of a sudden I got contacted by the State Department and they wanted to put my work in the U. S. Embassy in Kuwait, and then they wanted to put my work up in more embassies around the world. Now I have my work in 5 embassies. Including Kuwait, Tunisia, Mauritania, Malta and the U.S. Embassy to NATO in Brussels, Belgium. This happening was a strong signal to pursue my photography more, so I left chemical engineering and pursued photography more full time. However, chemical engineering still affects my art today. I use equipment that’s hard to use. I photograph snowflakes and water drop collisions that are fun, but hard to do and it takes a technical aspect.

AC: How do you shoot your popular water drop collision shots?

BW: There are little precision valves that are connected to your computer and you can control how big the drop is and control the time in between drops. So a first drop comes down and hits the tray and makes a beautiful splash but it has to be just the right size to accomplish what's called a worthington jet, which is so amazing to see up close. Once you have a worthington jet you can time a second drop coming from the opposite side and there is a collision! It’s fun and it’s playful.

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AC: When did you decide to open your own gallery?

BW: I paid my dues for years and years but there were strong signals to move forward with opening my own gallery after all that. I’m motivated philosophically. Our world is not ugly, it's full of wonders and it’s beautiful. We’re swimming in the beauty. We take it for granted sometimes, but it’s everywhere. It’s everywhere and we’re the ones to exalt in it and be in awe by it. It’s almost as if we have an obligation. If we don’t exalt in it, then who will? Otherwise, it’s just cold physics out there. Humans are the ones that bring warmth and joy and awe and all of these wonders into the universe. When im taking pictures, it feels like I’m trying to honor our existence. It’s almost a way of saying “thank you.” There‘s all kinds of beauty. There’s physical beauty, there’s love, there’s mathematics, there’s music… I’m devoted to that kind of philosophy in this chapter of my life. To the extent that I can do a worthy job.

AC: How often do you take photos?

BW: It’s erratic. Sometimes I’m out a lot, and I have my gear with me most of the time in case something happens. One thing I’ve noticed about photography is, your camera doesn’t do you any good unless it’s with you.

AC: What inspires you?

BW: I shoot different things. I’m a hard scientist. I like ice and snow and trees. I like structures.

AC: Where do you go to find inspiration in Park City?

BW: I really enjoy Guardsman’s Pass in the fall, and Mirror Lake roads. Park city itself has lovely little charms all over the town. The community itself is remarkable. It’s like a hidden civilization on its own somehow. The attitude is healthy and happy and it’s really a joy to try to be a part of it.

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AC: When opening your gallery, why did you choose Main Street Park City?

BW: I’m from this area. I’m from the Wasatch Front. I know Park City well. I grew up skiing here. This is a place where a gallery has a good chance to survive and maybe even prosper.

AC: Out of the collection of your work in the gallery, which pieces are your favorite?

BW: I’m always most in favor of what I took most recently. I just got back from Belgium and I have some things I’m really excited to share. There’s some new pieces that we’re just going to start manufacturing  this morning. It’s shots of this forest in Belgium and it’s just fields of purple hyacinths. It’s amazing! This forest with all these gorgeous wildflowers goes on for miles. You’re walking there and they have these lovely trails to choose from and you encounter other people on the same path and you just look at each other in amazement that you’re experiencing this beauty.  

AC: Do you have destinations that you seek out for photographs or do you just stumble upon places?

BW: All the above. I often have an area or region im interested in, or a vision of a shot I want. Even more importantly, when you’re in an area, you have to condition your thinking to really consider, “what do I see?” I’m terrified of doing a bunch of travel and expenditure and I’m walking through this beautiful place and I’m thinking about something else, like bills or what have you, and I’ve just walked past something amazing and I missed a shot because I wandered off in my mind which is so easy to do! When I’m out and about, I’m alone. Which is a drag, but my pictures turn out better. Like a child I just think, “what do I see here?” “What do I see?” Im saying it out loud to myself. “What do I see?” Using all of these skills and trying to be clever and creative, trying to see what’s right in front of you is easier said than done.

And then you’ve got this creative framework of lenses and what the camera can do and sometimes your looking at everything you can see and sometimes you’re just looking at a tiny spot in the distance that a 800 millimeter lens can bring it to life, maybe that’s a magic photo. So you have to think like a lens.

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AC: Has your style evolved over the years?

BW: I think I’ve gotten better and I don’t have to take as many shots. I think I’ve gotten more skillful and I’m sure maybe it has evolved some. But for me personally, the same things that turned me on and I thought were playful and fun at the beginning, are the same things that still turn me on but I hope I’m better now with all of the practice I’ve had.

AC: Anything you wanted to add? Any new exhibits coming up?

I have some new pictures from my trip to Belgium of the beautiful wildflower fields. They should be up in the gallery sometime in June!

Learn more about Bret Webster and view some of his art on his website, www.bretwebsterimages.com or stop by the Bret Webster Images Gallery located at 312 Main St. in Park City. Hours are 10am to 9pm Friday and Saturday. 10am to 6pm on Sunday and 11am to 6pm Monday through Thursday.  

The Bret Webster Images Gallery is a member of the Park City Gallery Association, which supports and promotes Park City galleries in a number of ways, one of which is hosting a Last Friday Gallery Stroll,  a fun (and free) monthly community event that runs from 6:00-9:00 PM on the last Friday of each month, dedicated to highlighting artists and special exhibits at art galleries throughout town.