Bret Webster’s desert vision
Ryan Summerlin July 19, 2013
When photographer Bret Webster was a child growing up in Kaysville in the early 1970s, his family took trips to Utah’s red-rock deserts for vacations.
The group would visit Moab and Lake Powell and Webster soon found himself enchanted by the landscapes.
"I saw all this red sand and lizards, and it was so delightful to me," Webster told The Park Record. "There was a period when we stopped going, but I started going again myself when I was in college and haven’t been able to stop since.
"It’s like medicine and brings me back to my childhood," he said. "I’m hopelessly inflicted with it. It recreates me like nothing else."
In order to share his love of the desert with the residents and visitors of Park City, he decided to open his own gallery, Bret Webster Images, located at 312 Main St., just a little more than a month ago.
In addition to the desert, Webster also specializes in alpine and tropical images.
"The desert, though, is where the idea of becoming a photographer originated from," he said. "And the camera came to me later in life, and to tell you the truth, I wasn’t interested in it at first."
Webster is originally a chemical engineer and work in the rocket/missile industry at Hercules Aerospace and Northrop Grumman.
"My background is science and I’m sure that has colored how I look at things and shaped how I see nature," he said.
In the mid-2000s, Webster decided to give photography a try.
"I had this camera and immediately dialed the settings to the extremes," he said with a laugh. "I wanted to capture the images of hummingbird wings or kids splashing in the pool."
After his initial experiments, his wife convinced him to buy a better camera, and that’s when things really began, Webster said.
"I was in Moab where the Milky Way is very visible thanks to very dark skies," he said. "I wondered if this camera I bought could capture and image what I was seeing."
After trying and failing many times that night, Webster decided to turn the settings up all the way for old times’ sake.
"I decided if I didn’t make it work I would just give up," he said. "And then out popped this image of the stars and cliff lines.
"It was terrible, but I was astonished," Webster said. "I realized I could image the Milky Way, and that started my endeavor to improve on that."
So, he spent a lot of time purchasing equipment and learning new techniques and methods.
"I really loved putting our planet in a planetary perspective, because, you know what, it’s a true perspective and we rarely see it," he said. "In this day of climate changes and burgeoning humanity, it is important that we can see this perspective and have it resonate with people."
To do that, Webster learned how to use a variety of lenses, including the wide-angle, which opened up his creativity.
"Once again, I tried to find out what I could do and just started doing it," he said.
Webster also began shooting in black and white.
"I do have a hard time departing from color, but when I do, I usually look for textures to use as the story," he said. "I do want to get more black and whites."
Eventually, Webster’s images started to show up in public.
"They kind of got out there and people caught some of them and suggested that I do more," he said. "I started to do art shows and more and more groups of people saw what I was doing."
One of these groups was the United States Department of State.
The daughter of Matthew H. Tueller, the U.S. Ambassador to Kuwait, liked Webster’s work called "Ghost Panel Night," which he shot in Horseshoe Canyon in Canyonlands National Park.
"My friend and I hiked and climbed into that canyon carrying all of my equipment and waited for the right time to take the image," Webster said. "It was one of the most challenging shots I have done, because once we were done, we had to climb and hike out, because overnight camping is not allowed."
Tueller and his people wanted to display the image in the U.S. embassy in Kuwait’s boardroom.
"That is where they meet with all sorts of representatives from other countries," Webster said. "They thought my work would fit because it was an image of the desert and they have a desert."
Along with "Ghost Panel Night," Webster shipped four other works.
"When people see them, they see our planet in a spiritual, cosmic, galactic perspective with spiritual underpinnings," he said. "It’s a message that they understand across cultures, and the beauty of our existence can be used to close that gap."
The embassy also set up a special gallery and invited Webster to Kuwait.
"When I landed, they gave me a six-day schedule and took me all over the place to talk with various groups out there," he said.
Webster felt it was his duty as a photographer to build bridges between the cultures.
"I think that this gig, this chance of existing, is a good gig and I’m really glad to have it," he said. "We’re designed to feel love and experience beauty, and we’ve been plopped down in the middle of this garden of beauty.
"Sure, our daily grind sure beats that out of us and closes our eyes, but we still can get glimpses of the beauty periodically," he said. "The act of photography is a way for me to adore this existence and share it with others. When I’m able to take the years of experience and experiments and use them to capture something the best that I can that strikes someone else in the heart is a great feeling of achievement and communication."
That’s what drives Webster to try to capture and present the best images he can.
"I’m fanatical about not putting anything out there without a wow factor," he said. "I want to make sure that the people who come in to the gallery can purchase something that is appealing and provocative to put in their home. I want these things to provoke conversation and not just be part of the furniture."
In addition to the U.S. embassy in Kuwait, Webster’s works are on display in the Rio Tinto Natural History Museum of Utah, the U.S. Embassy in Tunisia and, of course, his gallery in Park City.
These days, Webster usually works with two cameras — both Canons, a Mark II and Mark 2 5D — and a host of lenses.
"They are getting a little old, but they do everything I need," he said. "My 5D has a beautiful full-frame sensor and doesn’t appear to have any dead-pixel problems."
Webster only shoots in digital.
"I adore film, but I found that the (digital) technology today enables this new front of creativity in photography," he said. "Great sensors can image the Milky Way and I can illuminate the rock while the shutter is open and do this again 30 to 40 times until I like it."
The photographer said he is looking forward to his new endeavor in Park City.
"I went through every property on Main Street and made lists, studied them and talked with people," he said. "I cut the list down to reasonable properties and then hunted down the owners. So, I’m here, and ready to go.
"In a way, photography saved me, Webster said. "It put a balance in my life and has made me a new person. I will never, ever give it up. Even if no one saw these, I still would’ve kept doing it."
For more information about photographer Bret Webster, call (435) 200-8258 or visit www.bretwebsterimages.com.