City Lights Gallery, 37 Markle Court, Bridgeport. Gallery hours are Wed. to Fri., 11:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. & Sat., noon to 4 p.m. Exhibit runs through Feb. 19. Free. (203) 334-7748, www.citylightsgallery.org.
He also enjoyed art, studying it on the GI Bill, and opened a commercial sign and design shop. He also worked at WICC-TV as an art director and set design painter. A stint in advertising led him to a job at Sikorsky Memorial Airport, where he gained closer access to his beloved airplanes. Then, in 1978, his dream job arrived: doing traffic and fishing reports for WICC-AM, which required him to be in the air for more than five hours every day.
When that gig ended, he put his skill to good use and married his twin interests, flying and art, and began taking photos from the sky. At first, he snapped shots of major construction jobs on behalf of contractors to document their progress, but then he began to see his work as more art than commerce and composed his frames with more care.
City Lights Gallery, in downtown Bridgeport, will be holding its first-ever solo show, “City Under Lights,” featuring Kaolian’s stunning aerial photos of Bridgeport and environs. Taken in the evening, with just a touch of ambient light illuminating streetscapes and waterways, the pictures contain incredible detail and clarity, in part due to a new lens that he recently bought.
“I would not have been able to take these pictures five years ago,” he said. “The new lens is a telephoto but it’s vibration resistant and lets me keep the aperture open, which I need because I’m moving so quickly in the air and working with limited light. These are difficult shots.”
Indeed, he takes his hands off the controls when he shoots while the plane flies in a circle around a point and snaps at least 50 images of the shot he’s trying to capture.
“I like to be alone when I take my photos, for fear that passengers would get sick,” he said. “I do all kinds of aerobatics and am constantly circling. It would be unnerving, I think.”
The show includes photos he took last summer. “It amazes everyone when they see these,” he said, “even the FAA, but the only concern I have is that I’ve got to look around for other airplanes. Other than that, it’s second nature.”
One thing the photos illustrate is perspective, says gallery director Suzanne Kachmar. “It’s such a different perspective than being on the ground, and you can see how the city is laid out,” she says. “Here, you can study and enjoy the view, see the autos moving around and the streaks of incandescent light create a lot of reds. The photos offer wonderful contrast and the city looks almost like a model.”
Kaolian’s work and ability to combine his twin loves of flying and photography sometimes results in more than just art for art’s sake. He discovered the destruction of two historic structures on Pleasure Beach while buzzing over the site in 2009 and, like many of his aerial shots, the resulting photos ended up on the front pages of newspapers across Connecticut.
He enjoys the rush of adrenaline when he gets the call that there’s an incident in progress, then hops into his plane and heads to the scene. His photos of the devastation after the explosion at the natural gas plant in Middletown last year that killed five workers circulated widely.
“Editors are often delighted,” he said. “I once got a picture of a building engulfed in flames which appeared on page one of the Connecticut Post, and at the newsstand right next to it the New Haven Register’s photo showed burnt embers after the fire had been put out. That was a great moment.”
“City in Flight”: On Friday Feb. 4, starting at 6 p.m., Andy Kosch, an expert on Gustave Whitehead, an inventor who may have flown an aircraft in Fairfield in 1901 (before the Wright brothers’ 1903 Kitty Hawk flight), will speak and show a series of short films at City Lights Gallery. A $10 donation to the gallery is suggested and there will be a raffle for a one-hour flight with Kaolian.