In his debut, Kulikauskas offers a rich, complex collection of black-and-white photographs taken in Yosemite National Park.
Returning 19 times in two years with his 35-mm camera, the photographer didn’t aim to capture the park’s black bear or bighorn sheep, but its human visitors. Inspired by a member of the wait staff going about her routine, Kulikauskas decided to focus on people and their impact on Yosemite. A thoughtful introductory essay called “Spirit and Matter” by Carol McCusker, the curator of photography at the Harn Museum of Art, in Florida, gives a brief history of writers and photographers at Yosemite, including Ralph Waldo Emerson, John Muir, and Ansel Adams, suggesting that these new images illuminate a crucial intersection of the sacred and the profane (the natural-spiritual and the earthly-consumerist) most true to the park’s present state. McCusker notes that ignoring human presence among the giant sequoias or on the fixed cables up Half Dome would miss something vital—the combined efforts of year-round employees and tourists shape the park’s identity. Jaw-dropping shots of pure wilderness don’t make up the centerpiece. Instead, full-page spreads depict horses on a pack trip, tethered to each other and to the people who ride them. In “2-Hour Tram Tour,” broad mountain faces pale to a foamy gray against the darker, foregrounded truck that drives a group of tourists. In another example of human impact, we see visitors watching the landscape with their binoculars and reaching into paper bags for lunch at Lake Tenaya. In the more than 100 photographs, composition choices show skill with the effects of light; page layout deploys an engaging variety of image size and orientation. Romantics might favor the few photographs that grant a deep perspective toward a lush tree line, as in “Ahwahnee Meadow,” or allow a divine downspout of sunlight into a scene in which the human figures are dwarfed, as in “Cook’s Meadow.” The last pages feature the words of a stable manager, interpretive rangers, a gardener—those with deep attachments to the park. The volume concludes with four transcribed interviews with these park personnel and several first-person stories about living and working at Yosemite.
These well-curated images intriguingly reroute our way of seeing Yosemite’s beauty by foregrounding the people that call it home for years or for a day.