Ulrika Kestere is a Swedish photographer and artist. She creates fantastic narratives, tales and imagery with her photographs sometimes combined with her other artworks. Ulrika makes very convincing and captivating creatures by spreading the clothes and has worked on an acclaimed series “The girl with 7 horses” which narrates the story of a girl trying to recover her seven invisible horses blown away by the wind. Her portraits deserve special mention with their balanced composition and use of theme/props and color settings typical of 18th century North European master artists. Ulrika has also taken very impressive animal portraits that have a lot humor and inane elements in them. Mixing folklore and mythology with her art, she’s been producing very original and inspiring photography and artwork.
I was born in Latvia, in a town called Liepaja. When I was 4 years my family moved to Sweden. I studied photography in Norway, at Lofoten folkhögskole. After a two year education I studied graphic design and afterwards I got a bachelor in Industrial Design. So all in all it’s been 5 and a half years studying for me.
Tell us about your journey into the world of art and photography:
I started photographing when I was 12 years old. Although photography isn’t my full time job (I work as a graphic designer at an ad agency) I see myself as a professional. Sometimes I photograph for ads and then I work with big clients, other times I just help out friends who need photographs. However, my own personal projects have always been the most important, although these don’t bring me any money. It’s difficult when money gets involved, you somehow loose track of what you want to do. I’ve experienced this with my illustrations that I sell worldwide.
While I was studying I could be photographing almost every day. But since I’ve started working the energy hasn’t been the same unfortunately. I still keep a few projects running though, so my fire won’t go out.
Tell us why you take images and its place/effect on your life etc.:
Photography makes me happy and confident since it’s that one thing that I feel I’m truly good at. When I photograph, I vanish into my own little world where there is no space for unnecessary thoughts. I’ve tried both meditation and yoga but nothing clears my head like when I photograph. For me that’s when I’m truly in the moment.
I started drawing during my second year when I was studying photography. I needed a break from the photography but wanted to stay creative… so I had this character that I drew a sort of journal with. Although my illustrations were poor at first, I had a lot of creative people around me who strongly encouraged me to continue. I think this made all the difference – having someone believe in me. Because I’m not as confident with my art as I am with my photography.
Drawing takes so much more time than photography, and it often needs 100 times more of my imagination. I love that that there are no limitations in the worlds I can create with my pencil, compared to how it is when I photograph. However, I do think photographing is more relaxing, also because you move around a lot when you photograph. When you draw you have to be still for a very long time.
My photography is a mix of portraits, fine art and wildlife I would say. I often just call my series “stories” or “daydreams” – because that’s what they are to me.
I use a Canon 5D Mark II and mostly I prefer my Tamron 24-70 mm f/2.8 lens in front of the canon lens because the second is so heavy. Now and then I use telephoto, wide-angle, macro, tilt-shift etc… but 9 out of 10 times I have the Tamron with me. When I started of I often had one or two extra lenses with me. But I find I can to most things with 24-70mm, plus that lens has a pretty good macro. Also, the more stuff you bring the more it becomes a hassle to photograph.
I’m very proud of my project called “The girl with 7 horses” since it was received so well by so many people from all over the world. People were moved by that simple photo series – me with cloth-horses. I never saw that coming. Otherwise I love selling my art through Society6 – I think it’s more of a wow when everyday people want to have my photography or art in their home than when a company wants me to photograph something.
I also really like the photo project I did with dogs when I was 18. They are still one of my favorite subjects to shoot.
I don’t have any clients although I sometimes photograph for the clients we have at the ad agency where I work.
I’m not sure I have a creative method, inspiration can come from anywhere. From someone’s story, from seeing a texture of a fur or a fabric… often it has just been finding a beautiful place that I want to capture somehow. I see a location and then I want to put my world into it and capture that. One of the least effective ways to find inspiration would be scrolling through blogs and Pinterest. This will only make you insecure of your own work or make you copy someone else’s work.
What really makes me click is if I’m in a new place, somewhere out in nature where there are animals too, and the light is just perfect – dim and grey or a low sun. Then I have this happy feeling in my stomach because I can feel that I’ll be able to capture something beautiful.
Hmm… well that depends I guess. Contemporary can be so many things. I do have a hard time with very abstract contemporary photography, especially when it’s depressing too. I often want to present the most beautiful things the world has and emit a cozy warm feeling. There is so much art and photography that makes you sad that I want to make sure I’m not contributing to that. Overall children are often a more interesting audience because too many adults feel that happy art is silly art.
Tell us about your region and best places to shoot there.
I live in Skåne in the south of Sweden. Good places to go here are Haväng in Österlen at the east coast, Hovs Hallar north of the west coast and then in the middle of the region in the forests.
I think I would like to be a full time photographer in the future, but I’m still finding my path to that road. As a young girl it does take a little time for people to show you respect – to believe that you can actually be experienced enough. I’ve had many older men give me an amused look when they hear that I photograph. I guess they think I just photograph my feet and my friends eating icecream.
The first photographer who ever inspired me was William Wegman. After that it’s been many who come and go – but I’ve always kept my respect for his work with his weimaraners.
Accept that it takes a lot of time to become good. Years. Don’t rush it. Don’t aim towards being young and successful. Go slow, appreciate all your mistakes and what you learn from them.
Don’t just look at the photography you want to work with but also of the everyday life of that profession. What kind of people would you have to work side by side with? Would you be able to have a life outside your job? Do you prioritize family or work?
When I was 20 years I though I wanted to work with fashion because I liked how the photographs were built. But I didn’t have to spend much time in that world to realize that it wasn’t for me. I want to live somewhere near nature and to have a lot of time with the love of my life. I will always find a way to photograph. Whether it’s work or a hobby.
So If I can pass anything on to the readers it would be to look thoroughly at your dreams and prioritize right. Chose what will make you happy, not what will make you famous!
Note: All images used with permission. Please do not copy or distribute without the approval of the photographer.