Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

As a student at the Los Angeles Art Center School from 1938 to 1940, my father began his career in photography with an exciting and fruitful period of experimentation with alternative processes such as reticulation, bas-relief, light drawings, and photograms.

After serving in the military and working as a civilian photographer in support of the war effort in the early 1940s, he engaged in the pursuit of a way to scientifically control the line effect of partial reversal, commonly known as solarization. It was a process he had not only used creatively as a student; he also had seen it as having potential applications for the fields of medical, scientific, and industrial illustration.

Succeeding in the development of a fast, easy-to-use method of critically controlling the thickness, continuity, and legibility of the line effect, he was eventually awarded patents in the United States, Canada, and Great Britain.

Following a move from southern California to the Monterey Peninsula in 1946, Dad met and became friends with Edward Weston, a meeting that changed the trajectory of his creative journey.

Deeply moved by Weston's love of nature as well as the beauty of his photographic prints, Dad abandoned the idea of marketing his scientific work and returned to nature as a primary source of inspiration for himself.

He also focused his energies on using different camera equipment and darkroom methods, learning to see in new ways with an 8x10 view camera as well as becoming adept in the craft of richly-nuanced, eloquent print-making.

This kind of evolution in vision and its associated methodologies became a hallmark of Dad's art. Reconnecting with nature in the late 1940s set in motion a process that served him well for the rest of his life. Throughout his career, he kept challenging and redefining both himself and his imagery. He once described his process of working this way:

"Growth in photography requires that I continually engage in a critique of my ways of perceiving and thinking so that I may not be unconsciously ruled by them. Whenever I have found myself stuck in the ways I relate to things, I return to nature. It is my principal teacher, and I try to open my whole being to what it has to say. Although sometimes it takes me quite a while, eventually these interactions enable me to break the constricting habits I've formed and resume my work with fresh vigor."

Dad created the image of Old Chair in 1951. 1951 was also the year he made Child in Forest, Driftwood, Old Typewriter, and Pebble Beach Forest. It is the year he marked as the beginning of his maturity as a creative photographer.

Although I was only six years old in 1951, I remember hearing Dad talk about seeing and experiencing things as dynamic, ever-changing events in space/time. He spoke of qualities rather than objects and referred to a process of relating to and understanding things in terms of opposing qualities.

At the time I really didn't comprehend what he was saying, but when I first saw Old Chair I had a sense of it. It gave me a glimmer of insight that the other remarkable photographs from 1951 and beyond built on.

Many years later, when I was going through Dad's journal notes and other writings in preparation for the book Photographing the Nude, I came across this passage in which he described the change that occurred for him at the beginning of the 1950s:

"At the time…I was probably a bloody bore. I couldn't talk of anything else but space/time to all my friends, and I think it drove them straight up the wall. It was really an emotional experience for me when, all of a sudden, I realized that I had been thinking and operating on one level and that it didn't always have to be so. Discovering this other level opened up new worlds to me…."

In another passage, he wrote:

"Discovering the concept of space/time and applying it to photography doesn't guarantee good pictures, but, for me, it represents a tremendous leap forward. Through it, I am learning about form, balance, energy, light, perception, uniqueness, connectedness, change, interdependence, and how, through an awareness of tones and opposites, I can create powerful symbols of my experiences with these things.

I now measure my growth as a photographer in terms of the degrees to which I am aware of, have developed my sense of, and have the skills to symbolize visually the four-dimensional structure of the universe."

Old Chair, 1951 was my introduction to the new worlds Dad was discovering. Whenever I see it, I feel again his profound excitement and am thankful for all it represents in memory as well as meaning.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson