Commentary by Chris Johnson

My first encounter with Wynn Bullock was when I came upon a book of his work in a San Francisco Tenderloin bookstore in 1971. An apartment in Tenderloin had been my first home when I'd arrived a few years before and that bookstore had become a haven for inspiration and to pass the time. I had only recently understood that I had no great talent as a folk singer but that seeing could itself be a creative process. The photography section suddenly took on great meaning for me and I was looking.

There are few moments in my life that I remember vividly but one of them was standing in the bookstore and seeing for the first time a photograph, actually attached to the cover of a handsome book: it was The Shore, 1966 by Wynn Bullock. It's true, that as a kid from Brooklyn, New York, rocky shorelines were unfamiliar to me, but I had certainly seen photographs of beaches, if only on postcards. But there was something profoundly, and almost disturbingly different about this image I was seeing. Darkness and beauty were not concepts I had ever associated with each other before… and yet, here they were, expressed in one silent and powerful visual poem.

A few years later I had my second encounter with Wynn, this time at a winter Ansel Adams workshop in Yosemite Park. A group of students were sitting with him in a discussion about beauty and its importance in art. There were a few young artistic rebels there eager to make the point that traditional aesthetics had become obsolete; an overused and exhausted form of expression that needed to be replaced with irony and conceptual rigor. Hearing these words in that place made us all wonder what Wynn could possibly say in response.

What he said defines precisely the point that every artist should consider both in the making, and in the appreciation of great works of art. He said, "Bring to mind a scenic photograph designed for a souvenir postcard". Of course that is very easy to do. "Now consider the work of any of the great masters of landscape photography. Is it hard to tell the difference between what is intended and what has resulted?"

Wynn Bullock's The Shore exemplifies this obvious difference. What matters in great art is not what can be seen by anyone on the surface of our visual worlds. What Wynn has done is embody in one still image all that a momentary coming together of sea and sand and light and time could mean to a sensitive and complex soul: some things appear to stay, other things appear to come and go, but time is constantly moving all of these things past us with a precious significance that can be felt more than described.

~ Chris Johnson
Professor of Photography, California College of the Arts