Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

"That's a photograph?! I thought it was a painting. What's it a photograph of?"

These are some of the initial comments we hear when people first see a Wynn Bullock Color Light Abstraction. We assure them it is a straight, un-manipulated photographic image that was created 50 years ago, way before the age of personal computers and programs like Photoshop. And we tell them it is a photograph of light.

Then comes the next round of questions: "Well, how did he make it? What exactly was he photographing?" And from those who have had some familiarity with Bullock photography, there's often the astonished response: "But Wynn's a black & white photographer! I never knew he did anything in color."

We've chosen one of Dad's Color Light Abstractions as our second featured image of the month to illustrate some of the range and depth of his innovative image-making, and we've selected this particular photograph because it was among his personal favorites. As the cover image of the new monograph devoted to this remarkable body of work, 1071 is on its way to becoming a signature image, just like Child in Forest is for Dad's black & white work of the 1950s.

Over the coming months and years, we will discuss all aspects of Dad's abstract color imagery, but in this commentary I want to touch on why he did it and something of what it meant to him.

As a young boy, Dad was strongly attracted to light. Light…baking the desert…blistering bare backs in tomato and wheat fields…filtering through eucalyptus trees…making morning grass and orange blossoms steamy and fragrant. His continuing experiences of its intense heat and brightness, its power to make things appear and disappear, its relation to life and death, made light for him the most fascinating of all natural forces.

In the late 1920s, it was light, through the paintings of the post-Impressionists and the photographic images of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy, which eventually led Dad to end his career as a concert singer and embrace photography as his life's work. Exploring alternative processes such as solarization and using them to achieve interesting light effects was the direction he pursued artistically during the late 30s and 40s. In Edward Weston's photographs, it was the subtle qualities of light that helped steer his course toward straight photography. Throughout the 1950s, as he learned to relate to and photograph things as space/time events, the significance of light became even more profound for him.

Then in the fall of 1959, he entered a new realm of creative expression. At the time, a friend was experimenting with lenses that were capable of focusing at extremely close range. Dad became intrigued with the perspective the lenses offered and began experimenting himself. When he found he could visually eliminate the intrusion of "objects" in his images and concentrate on the phenomenon of light itself, he knew he had the means to explore it more deeply and powerfully than he had ever done before.

For about five years, Dad all but stopped making black & white photographs and became totally absorbed in the creation of his photographs of light. He felt that color helped him express the beauty, richness, and potency of light as a living force. Abstraction enabled him to get close to the essence of universal qualities. By choosing not to symbolize recognizable object-events – for example a tide pool teeming with a variety a familiar organisms – and by symbolizing instead vivid forms of light pulsing with energy and surging upward through unfathomable darkness, Dad believed he could evoke more directly and intensely the qualities which both pictures could represent.

Several weeks ago, Ziggy Evitts, a writer, musician, and visual artist from England, received a copy of our Wynn Bullock: Color Light Abstractions book as a Christmas gift from his mother. Recently, he shared his responses with us. Here is part of what he wrote:

The images…stir something quite elemental in me; they almost exist outside of the normal realm of responses one has to photography and indeed to art in general. What does one feel when presented by something that is both alien and real, all at once? With abstract painting, one is normally always aware that there is a painting and that it has been painted by a painter. However, with the Colour Light Abstractions, there is seemingly no frame of reference for the mind, because the materials and effects appear as unearthly, pure energies; composed in accordance with perspectives and schemes that are entirely beyond our present understanding. When I look at the work, I feel completely out of any time or era of photography; they do not exist as part of any specific movement or style that I know of. I feel they are some of the most important photographs to have been taken thus far, because they are portraits of transcendence itself…, not as theme, but as a living physical force.

Ziggy Evitts' words go right to the heart of why Dad created his abstract color imagery. And what the imagery means to Ziggy is why we are so excited about re-introducing it to a world that has remained largely unaware of it for fifty years.

Dad once wrote, "Searching is everything – going beyond what you know. And the test of the search is really in the things themselves, the things you seek to understand. What is important is not what you think about them, but how they enlarge you." For Dad, light was perhaps the most profound truth in the universe, and his color photographs, such as 1071, represent one especially beautiful and meaningful way he manifested his explorations of it.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson