Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

It was in Paris in the late 1920s, during his career as an acclaimed concert singer, that my father discovered the work of the French Impressionists and post-Impressionists. Returning over and over again to the Louvre to study the paintings, Dad developed a strong interest in the visual arts as an alternate way to pursue and find meaning in life. However, it wasn't until he saw the photographs of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray that he found the path he personally wanted to follow. Inspired by these two artists, he bought his first camera and began making pictures while continuing his vocal studies and concert performances in France, Germany, and Italy.

After the Depression forced him to return to the United States to manage his first wife's real estate holdings, Dad avidly pursued his photographic hobby. The joy he experienced as an imagemaker eventually led him to end his professional singing career and embrace photography as a total way of life.

The first step he took toward his new commitment was to enroll as a student at the Art Center School in Los Angeles. The year was 1938 and he was 36.

Although the school curriculum was heavily weighted toward the commercial side of the visual arts, Dad was much more interested in the creative aspects of photography. Still intrigued by the works of the French painters and photographers he had discovered almost a decade before, he wanted to go beyond ordinary seeing and create images that would stimulate the eye and mind regarding light and the objects it illuminated.

Toward this goal, he devoted much of his two years at Art Center to making light drawings, photograms, reticulations, solarizations, and bas-reliefs using various combinations of negative and positive images. Absorbed in his explorations of alternative processes, he often neglected his regular assignments. Fortunately, an instructor named Edward Kaminski became a strong advocate, and, on more than one occasion, intervened with the administration on Dad's behalf.

Of all the techniques Dad worked with, the one that most captured his imagination and interest was solarization, a process by which tonal values in a negative or positive image can be manipulated and various outlining effects achieved. Working with solarization alone and in combination with other techniques, Dad found he could accentuate the qualities of movement in line and, through distortion of tonal values, combine fantasy with realism. Employing it in portraits, he could intensify the expression of emotion and mood. With figure studies, he could emphasize a body's voluptuous curves or its inherent strength and energy.

Early Solarization, 1940, exemplifies the kind of work Dad pursued during his years at Art Center. It is an ethereal image in which the radical reversal of tones depicts luminously graceful hands floating in a field of brilliant light.

Made three years before my parents met and several years before I was born, I remained unaware of this image while both Dad and Mom were alive. It wasn't until my sister Lynne and I were going through the photographs we inherited after Mom's death that we came across it.

Although I had been familiar with other images from his early years as a creative photographer and had written about several of them, I was immediately drawn to this one. It was partly because of the subject matter and partly because of the qualities of light and grace that had been so beautifully symbolized.

I have always loved hands - the expressive hands of a dancer; the strong, sure hands of an artisan; the warm, comforting hands of my father; and the sweet-smelling, supportive hands of my mother….

I also have experienced the healing magic of touch as well as the wonder of light as an elemental force of nature.

All the associations and connections the image calls forth, along with the subtle use of solarization that doesn't call attention to itself, but quietly, eloquently enhances the evocative power of the image, make this photograph one of my personal favorites.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson