Arts & EventsAuthentically Urszula

Authentically Urszula

Authentically Urszula

Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak

Photographer Urszula Kozak was born in Brenna, Poland, a former communist town near the Czech border. Surrounded by farms, animals and familial love, Kozak’s childhood was an extraordinary one. At the age of eight, Kozak arrived in Toronto with her family in November of 1984. Canada has since become her home.

Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak
Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak

Crediting her mother’s partner for her introduction to photography, Kozak picked up her first camera at the age of 12. She soon began snapping photos of anything and everything that she could. After moving to Ottawa in 2004, Kozak made photography her full time job.

Kozak’s gallery series Authentic Africa presents an intimate look at Africa’s creatures, both big and small. Shot entirely in black and white, Authentic Africa will be presented at the Alpha Art Gallery from September 9th to October 10th.

We sat down with Kozak and discussed her favourite locations to shoot, her adventurous trip to Africa and future plans.

The interview has been edited for clarity.

Ottawa Life Magazine: What are some of your favourite shooting locations?

Urszula Kozak: I have been to over 30 countries. I would say definitely Africa, in Kenya. One of the biggest life changing moments was travelling there. The people, the animals, the light, it’s incredible. I always encourage everybody to go and to experience that. I especially love the animals, because every year there is less and less of them.

I love South East Asia… the people, the culture there, and the food. I love shooting the water in Hawaii. Europe too, I love the little towns and the architecture.

OLM: What inspired Authentic Africa?

Urszula: The animals… I wanted to do something that took away the colour and focused on the animal. I wanted to shoot them like how you shoot a human being. I wanted to get into their souls and capture that, get people to look and feel for the animals. I wanted to raise more passion and awareness.

Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak
Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak

I loved shooting the lions. They were very fun, especially the cubs. When you watch them interact with the adults it’s incredible. The giraffes, too, I spent a lot of time with them. Ironically, the hippos were very fun. They aren’t the prettiest of animals, because they’re rough and tough. But they have character and they are very interesting.

OLM: I was looking through the photos and they were just so crisp.

Urszula: Wait until you come to the showing. I have about four prints at like 40 x 60, and they are still crisp. I saw them at that size and even I was blown away. Especially the lion head, it’s bigger than life.

OLM: Was the trip planned specifically for the showing?

Urszula: I went to Africa with the intention for the gallery. It was really planned around that. I went with a specific guide, my own vehicle and my own tent. If I wanted to spend all day with the lions and the cubs, then I could.

At one point during the trip, I got really, really sick. There was a moment where I was curled up in the fetal position by the Mara River thinking “If I’m gonna die here, at least I’ll be eaten by lions.” Then my guide told me to stop taking my Malaria pills because it wasn’t a bad area there, and nobody else was taking them. Soon as I stopped I was fine.

Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak
Photo courtesy of Urszula Kozak

OLM: Did you have any crazy adventures along the way?

Urszula: I had a wild experience there (in Nairobi). The guide that took me was experienced and well known, and he’s able to go off the paths and into spots that a tourist can’t go into. At one point there was a couple of big lions against the tree, in the shade. He told me to get out of the truck on the opposite side and take photos from underneath the truck.

I also got out of the car around hippos. They are really, really dangerous. My guide was watching me shoot them along the river. He said, “If I say run, drop your stuff and run.” I take those moments very seriously and do them quickly.

OLM: Would you say that pressure makes you preform better?

Urszula: It does. I find when I have something new and exciting and I’m learning in the process, it gives me an extra ‘oomph.’

OLM: What will be your next series to shoot?

Urszula: I would really like to return to Africa or Tanzania. We’re planning that for next year. I really, really loved this trip. India is on my list as well. It’s all about timing.

You can find Urszula on her website, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook. You can also find out more information about Alpha Art Gallery as well as the exhibit here.

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