Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

I am a source of amusement for my husband Gene whenever I refer to one of my father's images as a favorite of mine. He maintains I say that about every image. While that's not absolutely true, I do admit that I am very partial to many of Dad's photographs. There are, however, some very special favorites, and Tree Trunk, 1971, is one of these. It happened to be one of Dad's all-time favorites as well.

When he first showed it to me, we were working together on the book Photography: A Way of Life. He watched me silently as I held it in my hands. Moments later I exclaimed, "Yes!" It was all there, the essence of what he had been pursuing creatively. It didn't take much time or deliberation for us to agree that it would be the perfect image for the cover of our new book. I also chose to feature it in my text, and here, adapted for this commentary, is what I wrote:

"Tree Trunk is another example of Bullock's negative images. For purposes of exploring this kind of imagery more fully, a positive print of this photograph has been included [in this presentation]. (view) The positive represents a portion of a gnarled and twisted cypress trunk as the eyes and mind would commonly see it, the familiar qualities of weathered wood clearly recognizable.

"Within the tree's structure, there is complexity and movement - feelings of strength, power, and age are evoked. When Bullock saw the tree, he responded keenly to perceptions of potency and flowing motion. Yet he did so not alone through the straightforward ordinary vision which the positive print exemplifies.

"Having increasingly trained his eyes and mind to contemplate things in different ways, he was able to visualize the tree as it appears in the [final] image. Not only did he 'see' the event according to a completely reversed system of tonal values; he was able to view it through an upside-down perspective as well. As Bullock exposed his film, it was this negative inverted image with all that it symbolized, and not the [positive] image, which he was in the process of creating.

"For Bullock, Tree Trunk represents a wedding of the prosaic and imaginative. Released from familiar boundaries, the qualities of vitality and motion within the trunk are intensified and extended. Flowing white forms plunge downward and disappear. Darker forms, surging and swirling around each other, expand and contract, narrow and swell. Suggesting the four ancient elements of matter, these forms evoke a feeling of forces and causes beyond our comprehension and powers of ordering.

"Beyond these supreme, elemental forces, other qualities and events are evoked. There is growth. Abstracted and freed from the confinement of specific, concrete objects, its meaning is universalized and enhanced. [The image] becomes a symbol of a [process] which can be partially perceived and experienced but never completely known.

"There is also light. In contrast to the positive image where matter looks solid and light seems to be only a reflected illuminator, in the reversed imagery of Tree Trunk, light appears as an integral part of the dynamic forms. It glows from within as a symbol of the inherent energy of life."

The first half of the 1970s proved to be the final stage of Dad's creative journey. One of his primary goals was to more fully understand and express the nature of existence as it was being described by the theoretical scientists and philosophers of the day. He sought ways to go beyond the truth of commonplace vision. What he wanted to create were images that evoked the multi-dimensional, dynamically fluid, ever-changing character of life as he was increasingly believing and experiencing it to be beyond the relatively solid, stable appearance of the conventional world.

My joyful "Yes!" as I first regarded Tree Trunk, 1971, was a celebration of his success. For forty years, I have lived and worked with this image and the wonder and beauty it conveys has only grown richer with time. Gene and I have a print of it displayed in our dining room where, along with the food that we eat, it daily nourishes our souls.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson