Photography has, from its earliest decades, proved a useful ally to naturalists as a method for documenting specimens. In the case of photograms, which created records of whatever was placed on the photo-sensitive surface, nature could draw itself.
However seemingly straightforward the process, there is a lyricism to those early studies that is ancestor to the often rapturous work of Christine Nguyen.
Like 19th century botanist and photographer Anna Atkins, the Long Beach-based Nguyen uses the cyanotype (blueprint) process. Its luscious tones and rich translucencies suit her subjects well — not just plants of the ocean but also of the land, and more broadly, the fluid expanse of the cosmos.
Nguyen has been growing salt crystals on the surfaces of her works on both paper and canvas for years, and they appear here as delicate, shimmering crusts on a group of small cyanotypes on muslin. They also define a full-body silhouette in the canvas centerpiece of “The Cosmic Long Return,” which is flanked, shrine-like, by wall-hanging branches, thistles and pods. Elements of the installation are beautiful, but the whole feels weighed down by the excessively literal.
Baik Art, 2600 S. La Cienega Blvd., Los Angeles, (310) 842-3892, through April 2. Closed Sunday and Monday. www.baikart.com