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The Lighthouses of Kenneth Dulian

By B. John Zavrel, Museum of European Art


With an artistic vision comparable to Man Ray, Philippe Halsman and Helmut Newton, young photographer Kenneth J. Dulian presents the ages old fascination with lighthouses in a new light.



Lighthouses have been around in one form or another nearly as long as human civilization. However, throughout the 20th century, radar and other navigational systems have gradually made lighthouses nearly obsolete. At least, this is the case in the modern Western world. All the same, we have not lost any of our fascination with them. Thanks to the Kenneth J. Dulian, we are enriched with a new way of seeing the objects of a timeless fascination. He provokes us to think about lighthouses in such a way as to awaken within us feelings of longing and reunion.

What exactly is a lighthouse, and what significance did it once have? The lighthouse is a tower-like navigational aid which emits a strong light, making it visible from long distances. In the past, this light was given through the burning of wood or coal, and it was necessary that a caretaker be present at all times. They were installed at important points on the coast, on lakes, islands, and especially dangerous shallow waters. Today, most lighthouses function without a human caretaker, since they have become fully-automated. Also, they don't have to be fed with wood or coal. And where lighthouses are no longer used, we still let them - fortunately - stand. They remind us about earlier times, and they guide memories back to us from the boundless oceans of our childhood.


Comparison with the great masters of photography

The eye of the observer who is well-versed in the art recognizes that the creative source of Dulian's talent comes from his aesthetic love of beauty and harmony, as well as a fascination with the mysterious, traits which have distinguished the great photographers. Here we remember the American Man Ray (1890-1976), the Latvian Philippe Halsman (1906-1979) and the German Helmut Newton. The photographs of these talents have become highly paid for works of art, and they belong to the great private and public collections, like the Smithsonian Institute, as well as museums in America, Europe, and Japan. Man Ray was a photographer of artists and of arts in the first half of the 20th century in Paris. He was a cult figure and a pioneer in the art of photography. The cosmopolitan Halsman aroused special attention as a photographer when in 1941 he worked together with the surrealist Salvador Dali in the United States. Halsman, who worked for leading international magazines as a photo artist, created surrealistic photographs with a power of expression never before achieved. Helmut Newton became world-renowned as being the photographer of the most beautiful women and men of our time.

When we observe the lighthouses of the newcomer Dulian, we remember these great masters of photography, because in his work we see a distinct composite Ray's art photography, Halsman's surrealism, and Newton's compositional understanding of the human form: Dulian doesn't always stand up the lighthouses, pointing them straight up towards heaven. No! With one shot, Dulian may photograph the motives in the style of a classical painting. But then sometimes Dulian chooses to capture the structure from the lower-left to upper-right portions of the frame, or even sideways ahead. The tower seen in the picture thus becomes a flying object. Perhaps these compositions signal an imminent "start" of the artist Dulian into the world of portrait, nude and landscape photography?

The light, soaring state in many of his artistic photographs symbolizes a bridge between the past and the future, yet at the same time, Dulian connects our thoughts and glances with the ancient heritages of our mercantile past.


Famous Lighthouses of antiquity: Pharos and Rhodos

The list of the wonders of the world, put together in the third century BC, contained seven structures and art works, which were considered to have surpassed all others in grace, beauty, and splendor. The pyramids of Giseh, the hanging gardens of Babylon, the temple of Artemis in Ephosos, the sculpture of the Olympic Zeus from the sculptor Phidias, and the mausoleum in Halikarnassos and the Colossus of Rhodos. The other two structures were lighthouses.

The most well-known lighthouse of the antiquity was built in 260 BC on a peninsula in front of what is today the north Egyptian city of Alexandria. It was the 120-meter high lighthouse of Pharos. In its time, the mighty tower was the highest structure in the known world. According to historical calculations, one could see the light from the ocean from as far as 30 miles from the coast. However, according to history, the magnificent structure was destroyed by an earthquake at some time in the 13th century.

Rhodos is a Greek island off the south-west coast of Asia Minor. It had been inhabited by humans for over 1000 years before Christ. Rhodos was one of the most important strategic and political points in the known world. It had a great importance for seafaring. It is here that the Colossus of Rhodes stood.

The Colossus was a 32-meter high statue of the sun-god Helios, yet this monumental sculpture also served the practical purpose of a lighthouse: In one hand - so they say - Helios held a torch. According to our knowledge, the god stood astride across the entrance to the harbor, and the ships sailed under the statue of the god. Around the year 227 BC the Colossus of Rhodes was destroyed by an earthquake. It was built by the Greek sculptor Chares from Lindos around the year 300 BC. It is an old dream of Rhodes and of many friends of lighthouses of antiquity that some day this wonder of the world would be rebuilt. In the year 2002, some scientists and the German sculptor Detlef Krebs have started an attempt to reconstruct the figure of this "divine lighthouse."

Since Roman times, the Spanish bay of La Coruna, on a coast of granite cliffs in the north-west of Spain, was a fishing and trade harbor. It is here that the last remaining lighthouse of antiquity in Europe can be found. It is called "Tore de Hercules" (The Tower of Hercules). And to the oldest, still remaining towers in Europe belong the lighthouses in the North Sea and the in the East Sea in Germany.


Lighthouses are a part of tradition and culture

The lighthouses on the coasts and lakes of America and Canada cannot look back on such an old age. Yet to this day, these structures of our ancestors have certainly lost nothing of their ability to fascinate us. The art photographs of Kenneth J. Dulian bear this out. More than being merely pictures and historical documents, his photographs also makes us conscious of the rich symbolism of these structures: Aside from their practical significance for our ancestors, lighthouses are and will remain symbols for help, hope, orientation and guidance. Again and again, poets and thinkers have referred to persons as being "lighthouse." Thus, the biographer of Alexander the Great, the French writer Roger Peyrefitte, called the classical sculptor Arno Breker a lighthouse in the art of the 20th century, which radiates into a new era. Similar praises have also been directed towards scientists like Albert Einstein, as well as significant democratic, political and religious personalities.

If at the present time Kenneth J. Dulian brings about through his individual, emphatic and unmistakable photographs a new gateway to the appreciation of these structures and their historical heritage, then he achieves something worthwhile: He encourages the preservation of these structures, even if they are not actually needed any more. Lighthouses are a part of our technological and mythical culture. They belong to the roots of our common American historical heritage. Yet there is another benefit of Dulian's lighthouses: They seem to be taking off for a flight into the universe. Yet for many of us this imaginary universe is the creative universe of longing and dreams. The question stands: doesn't this universe lie in all of us? And is it not, quite regrettably, quite dormant in many of us as well? Perhaps the transport to and subsequent awakening of this realm is the true value of Dulian's work, as all great art and poetry.


Clarence, New York

February 10, 2002



Opening of the exhibition "LIGHTHOUSES IN PERSPECTIVE'



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Copyright 2002 West-Art

PROMETHEUS, Internet Bulletin for Art, Politics and Science.

Nr. 83, Summer 2002