Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

Light is what led my father to photography. An important step in the journey was his discovery of the work of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists while he was a singer continuing his vocal studies and concertizing in Paris in the late 1920s. Not only did their paintings stimulate an interest in the visual arts as an alternate means of creative expression; they gave form to his hitherto unexplored, yet deeply-felt, responses to light.

The next step in Dad's journey was discovering the photographs of Lazlo Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray. Although inspired by the paintings of Monet, Cezanne, and their compatriots, Dad felt no desire to become a painter himself. Photography as practiced by Moholy-Nagy and Man Ray, however, was an entirely different matter. He was fascinated by their use of distortion and abstraction. He experienced an immediate, strong affinity with both their craft and their images. Here was a medium uniquely based on light, and he believed that it would be possible through purely photographic methods to achieve levels of meaning equal in value to those he found in the work of the great painters.

The third and pivotal step for Dad was buying a simple camera. He found he loved the whole process of making photographic images, from learning to see through the viewfinder, to exposing his film, to realizing an image in negative and print forms.

At first, his image-making was an adjunct to his career as a concert singer. Then the Great Depression hit and, out of necessity, he returned to the United States to manage family real estate holdings.

For the next seven years, he photographed whenever circumstances allowed. He read innumerable photographic journals, annuals, and texts, and experimented with such techniques as solarization and reticulation. The more he studied and created images, the stronger his commitment to photography grew.

Finally, against strong pressures from his first wife and his mother to pursue the law, he made the decision to embrace photography as a total way of life. In 1938, he enrolled at the Los Angeles Art Center School. He was 36 years old and it was the formal beginning of his career as a full-time commercial and creative photographer.

As a student, Dad focused on improving his use of techniques that would allow him to go beyond ordinary seeing and create abstractions or unusual effects that would stimulate and challenge the eye and mind regarding light and the objects it illuminated.

At the time, he disagreed with the idea that photography was best used when it accurately represented objects as they are normally perceived. He believed through abstraction he could achieve another level of perception and express the essential qualities of light in ways that wouldn't be obscured by the kind of familiarity associated with a conventional photograph.

Light Abstraction, 1939, is a beautiful example of the work Dad produced during his two years at Art Center. In this early black and white image, light is the sole subject matter. Divorced from recognizable objects, it assumes dynamic shapes of its own making. No longer appearing simply as an illuminant, it becomes a living form and force in its own right.

Dad's interest in working directly with the qualities of light continued throughout his career as an artist. A later example of his black and white abstract photographs of light is Light #3, 1952. Both these images trace a creative arc that found fuller and deeper expressions in his Color Light Abstractions of the early 1960s and his later black and white abstract work of the early 1970s.

It was light that led Dad to photography and it was photography that led him ever closer to light.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson