By Morgan Millner-Moore
There’s something transcendental about walking the halls of historical buildings. Palms from successive generations have smoothed the same edges of the staircase, eyes have glanced at the same stately portraits, many feet have found the same creaks and undulations in the wood floors. These spaces echo a timelessness to the inhabitants. April Visel knows the importance of finding unique locations to serve as the nucleus for her photography workshops to ignite her students to find their style, and focus, and hone their techniques.
April embraces that inspiration is the yield of a fully immersive experience: “The world we live in is difficult and devoid of passion and inspiration most of the time. Being married to a musician gave me many instances to create ambiance when he would play at our house. Often there was food for taste, music for ears, lighting for eyes, smells for the nose, and when people would lay under the piano or hug one another, touch rounded things out. People would have reactions of joy and inspiration and sometimes crying…so I brought that into the workshops, to make a space for inspiration and feelings to run rampant. The outcome is a break away from the mundane and a clarity and an understanding of the association of their art with their current life paths”, said April.
Valeriia and RP Burj Al Arab
April’s workshops have been occurring since 2006: “At first, I wanted the opportunity to create my own dream shoots and this was a great way to do it. I wanted to create a place where photographers could build their portfolios with high-end imagery. I have always loved collaborating with people who are masters of their craft or art. Breeders, trainers, photographers, painters, writers, graphic designers, models, landowners, makeup artists, teachers, chefs, lighting specialists and more. When you give free license and support to artists, the outcome is beautiful and endless I have found. I love being inspired and being flexible to the ideas of all. The workshop can be wonderfully fluid in that way. Horses are unpredictable, so adjusting and staying open is a must.”
This October, she took her workshop to La Fleche, France to a castle built in the 1400s and filled it with wonderment. Students enjoyed Brandon Visel’s pianistic compositions, some laid under the grand piano and felt the vibrations of the wood and wept. She fed them French-inspired dishes. “All of the senses must be addressed”, April muses. She guided them on a journey through their own visions of photographic excellence with visual exercises and helped them find what makes their art reflect their own, individual authenticities.
It seems too easy to start with the magnificence of the shoots she composes with horses, landscapes, and people, when so much of the magic happens when the shutters stop clicking. Some students never even edit the photos but come back to enjoy the awe of the experiences even if they never look at a single image from any of their trips. Ultimately, however, the shoots are what draw her international student collective. They simply cannot be duplicated.
April’s French workshop boasted herds of ethereal white Arabian mares from Johanna Ulstrom’s incredible collection of Arabian horses at her farm and training center. They breathed out white twirls of fog and danced across morning dew. Arabians are endlessly captivating with their curves and elegance. They are a constant staple in April’s workshops- the perfect specimens to showcase the emotive qualities of our equine partners.
Then there were the models who explored the boundaries of horse-human connection. Photographers enjoyed a beautiful presentation of an imported, classic Spanish Arabian stallion ABHA Omani with his owner Kirsty Elena Patrick from Redwood Lodge Arabians in traditional Spanish tack. In another shoot accomplished equestrian Valeriia Rusanovych rode the Arabian mares Alabama (in Spanish attire) and Sharlyn NJ (bridleless) across the fields and posed with her on a sunlight-painted bench.
Tatiana Cunningham painstakingly designed, in collaboration with April, dresses that would complement each equine-horse combination including a dress with a long opening in the back to accommodate the flagged tail of an alabaster Arabian stallion.
Finally, two owners Jessy Loockx & Silky Verbinski traveled 8 hours with their Warlander gelding, Floki, and Pinto-Arabian stallion, A Q’t Guy, to complement the purebred Arabian horses of the shoots. With coats of golden buckskin and palomino, the boys complemented the French country-inspired dress. The final evening shoot concluded in true April style: a Spanish walk splashing through the lake with a swan, bareback galloping and rearing horses.
April leaves attendees in awe of the locations, the riders, the outfits, the horses- she orchestrates shoots that would otherwise be too risky, complicated, or costly to create for a single shooter. She adds the excitement needed for adrenaline seekers and quiet needed for those seeking more muted stimuli. The models can ride. The horses are happy, almost liberated in their expressions even when ridden. April hands her students paint brushes in the form of sunlight and encourages them to each find their own way to sculpt their visions from the scenes laid out before them. “I want them to leave with a drive and clarity about their style and where they will use their art in their daily lives or businesses. I want them to love it and never allow anyone, or anything to devalidate the incredible power and VALUE of art in our lives. Of course, I want them to leave with thousands of images that they are proud of and inspired to work on…or just to be joyous for a while when entering back into regular life,” said April.
I have modeled for 11 of April’s workshops now. Each workshop brings new artistic challenges, but April has a way of helping you forget yourself in the moment and find yourself via the horse in front of you or, in my case, under me. I have seen so many photographers come to these experiences and they don’t even need to understand horses to find the awe of the experience. When you’re with April at one of her workshops the inspiration will find you.