Arts & Theater

Art review: Past is present for Kerik Kouklis

“ Tunnel View Yosemite” is part of “Kerik Kouklis: The Alchemist’s Vision” at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center.
“ Tunnel View Yosemite” is part of “Kerik Kouklis: The Alchemist’s Vision” at Viewpoint Photographic Art Center.

Kerik Kouklis uses old means to create new photographs that often have a vintage feeling. Harkening back to the Pictorialist movement of the late 19th and early 20th centuries, he creates images that remind one of the artful photographs of early masters such as Julia Margaret Cameron, Edward Steichen and Alfred Stieglitz.

Pictorialism arose as an alternative to strictly representational and scientific qualities of early photographs, which many felt was not a true art form. Rather Pictorialist images conveyed individual expression through painterly photos like Steichen’s famous shot of New York’s Flatiron Building and the sensual nudes of Anne Brigman.

Like the Pictorialists, Kouklis creates rather than records images using complex and, during the time of the ascendancy of sharp-focus photography, outdated methods. Among these are the use of photographic emulsions such as gum bichromate over platinum/palladium prints, which give warmer and richer tones than those found in silver gelatin prints.

And like the Pictorialists, Kouklis often shoots in fog, capturing luminous, atmospheric images of trees, rivers and clouds. Prints like “Tunnel and Gates, Marin Headlands” with its radiant arch and “Stairway at Night, San Francisco” with its glowing luminesces softened by fog have a distinctly romantic feeling, as does a lyrical image of a persimmon tree that echoes aspects of Asian art.

The ghost of the famous 19th-century female photographer Cameron haunts a series of portraits of women ranging from the warm tones, rich textures and dark shadows of “Robin” to the eccentric image of a model named Molly with her hair streaming out in all directions, held up by assistants outside the picture’s plane.

His only nude, “Sally,” a slender woman looking out a window and leaning over a hopper in a lath-covered structure, is gloriously soft and luminous. It hangs near eerie images of a coyote skull and a bobcat skull in a scientific vessel of some kind.

Kouklis also works with the 19th-century photographic medium of tintype, giving us a rakish, piratelike image of himself and a striking large image of a tulip in a strange bottle with a spout. Both are richly produced and charmingly whimsical works.

There are a couple of strong shots of the Sacramento River and Delta presented as tondos (round formatted images), as well as a stunning shot of Yosemite reminiscent of an Ansel Adams, though more atmospheric.

Also included are a number of images from a recent trip to Northern Mongolia near Lake Hovsgol National Park focusing on the landscape and the marvelous faces of park rangers and guides to whom he became very close.

The trip was arranged through the Ansel Adams Gallery and the Lake Hovsgol Conservancy, which oversees the lake that provides 70 percent of the area’s water and is threatened by tourism and poor management.

Kouklis, 55, has been taking photographs since he was 12 and is largely self-taught. Recently retired from Aerojet where he worked as a geologist, he now devotes himself to photography full time and teaches workshops including an upcoming one at Yosemite through the Ansel Adams Gallery.

His love affair with early photographic techniques began more than 20 years ago, and he describes his method of working as a process of trial and error. He uses large-format cameras and shoots film that he manipulates with chemicals and watercolors applied with a brush.

His most recent venture is working with photogravure, another early technique that mimics the effects of prints made on copper plates. “Trees, Road and Fog,” a triptych of images in three colors, indicates that it will be a fertile field for his forays into past photographic techniques.

Kerik Kouklis: The Alchemist’s Vision

Where: Viewpoint Photographic Art Center, 2015 J St., Sacramento

When: Through Dec. 5, noon-6 p.m. Tuesday-Thursday, noon-5 p.m. Saturday-Sunday

Cost: Free

Information: 916-444-2341, www.viewpointgallery.org

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