Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

A major characteristic of my father's creative journey was change. Dad was always questioning, seeking deeper understandings about the human condition and the universe, and developing ways to more meaningfully express those understandings photographically. As he once said in a filmed interview, "There is no growth without change."

There were times in Dad's career when change was sparked by a serendipitous event. Perhaps the most significant example of this is when his friend Ernie Victorine gave him a special lens he had developed that was capable of focusing at extremely close range. Experimentation with this lens led Dad quickly into an exciting five-year period of visual exploration that manifested in images he called "Color Light Abstractions".

Other changes took place much more gradually, nurtured by an interaction of factors, including direct experience, intuition, in-depth reading, and reflection. Occasionally these creative transitions evolved with very little image-making, and other times they were accompanied by a body of work that contributed to the growth process. A stunning example of this latter type of transition occurred near the end of the 1960s.

Following an intense two-year period of creativity during which he used long, multiple exposures and sandwiched negatives to explore the nature and experience of time, Dad became restless. Without questioning or understanding why, he began making simple, straightforward photographs in addition to the others.

Gradually, he realized that the more complex techniques he had been using had served their purpose. The images they produced were too singular and strong for extended application. By employing the techniques further, he felt that his photographs would become formulaic and that appearance would overshadow meaning.

Created out of a need to clear his mind and refresh himself, the quietly simple photographs Dad made between 1968 and 1970 form an eloquent and therapeutic interlude in his development as an artist. At the time, all he wanted to do was be mindful of what was around and within him, whether he was walking our dog Hapi around the neighborhood, preparing black bean soup for lunch, or driving to San Francisco to lead a workshop.

Often he would pile his equipment in the trunk of the white Volvo and head out - to deserted sardine factories, mountain fields, rocky coves, city streets, old cemeteries, commercial wharves, country roads, public beaches - wherever inclination led him. Stopping frequently, he would get out and explore. Wanting to experience things as openly and receptively as possible, he would focus intently on whatever caught his attention. Whenever he responded strongly to an event, he would try to express the experience on film in all its fullness and immediacy.

Leaves and Cobwebs, 1969, was made during our family's annual summer vacation in Santa Cruz, a seaside community at the north end of Monterey Bay. In the late 1940s and 50s, we would stay in an old-fashioned motor court within easy walking distance of the famous Santa Cruz Boardwalk. By the 1960s, we had a 4-person camper mounted on a truck and stayed in a funky mobile home park in the Santa Cruz mountains, about a 30-minute drive from the shore. After the camper was sold, we rented a rambling, rickety cottage on the grounds of the trailer park and that is where this image was taken.

What characterizes Leaves and Cobwebs and many of the other images Dad made during this period is a depiction of essence similar to what is conveyed in Haiku poetry. The subject matter is quite commonplace - decaying leaves dangling from cobwebs against old, rough wood - but the qualities of light, space, and time that are expressed and the awareness of universal forces at play make the image exceptional in a quiet, essential way.

The intensely empathic interactions documented in this photograph and others of its kind were an important source of regeneration for Dad. They enabled him to achieve a distance and perspective concerning his past work while reviving his curiosity and energy for the new explorations and discoveries that lay ahead.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson