Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

This image was made by my father at a ranch south of Big Sur high atop Partington Ridge, not too far away from where author Henry Miller was living. The owner of the ranch was an eccentric medical doctor and avid anthropologist of Spanish and Native American heritage named Jaime de Angulo. Rarely there, Jaime relied on Sandy Justice to manage the ranch in his absence.

Sandy was a gentle giant of a man with a bushy beard, a penchant for cheap wine, and a soft heart for people in need. On any given visit, you never knew how many people might be staying at the ranch, supported mostly by Sandy's generous spirit. No matter how limited his financial resources, he always had enough to share.

Sandy and Dad were introduced by a mutual friend and took an instant liking to each other. Although Sandy had banned all photographers from the ranch, Dad had an open invitation to come and photograph whether Sandy was there or not. When asked once why he had made this exception, Sandy had replied, "That Wynn Bullock, he's just a God damn pillar of love!"

When Sandy found Marilyn (the mother of the child in the photograph) walking along the streets of Monterey, she was pregnant, homeless, and unsure about where she was going to find her next meal. Sandy brought her back to the ranch where she stayed for the next several years.

A soft, quiet woman, Marilyn modeled for Dad occasionally. One of his most well-known images of her and her baby is the haunting photograph titled Navigation without Numbers, 1957.

As Marilyn's baby became a toddler, he loved to explore, wandering the mountain paths and dirt roads with his mother and other ranch friends. The day Child on Forest Road was made, Dad was the chosen companion of Marilyn and her son. Near a particularly beautiful curve along Partington Ridge Road, he decided to stop and position his camera, open to whatever might happen next. When the child responded to a rustling in the bushes above him, Dad exposed his film.

Many people have been moved by this image and over the years, other artists have asked permission to use it as part of their own creative work. It has appeared on the album cover of Life by Gladys Knight and the Pips and the CD cover of On the Road to the Garden by musician/composer Johnny Blackburn. Writer Ursula LeGuin chose it as the cover image for her book of poems Wild Oats and Fireweed (Harper & Row, 1988).

As Mom recounted the story, Ursula had contacted her with the request to use the photograph, sharing that she had long loved the image. Mom was delighted to comply as she was a fan of Ursula's books.

When Ursula showed the reproduction print to her editor, she was told that, while it was a very nice picture, it wasn't suitable for the cover because there were no poems in the forthcoming book that related to it.

Unfazed by this opposition, Ursula simply wrote a new poem and submitted it to her editor, saying "Now we can use the picture!" After the book was released, she sent Mom several copies, along with a handwritten version of the poem. Reflecting the magic and power she experienced in the photograph, this is what Ursula wrote:

"Child on Forest Road" by Wynn Bullock

Where's the little one going
alone on the oak-forest road?
What does the child hear?

Maybe she's going to meet
the woman coming from there.

She's old, she's old,
her feet are bare,
her hair uncombed.
Far in the forest
And sweet she whistles,
"I'm coming, little one, little one,
coming on home."

Her feet are bare,
her hair uncombed,
the child who stops and listens, listens,
all by herself on the oak-forest road.

Although Mom was surprised that the little boy had become a little girl in Ursula's poem, she recognized the change as a testament to the universality of the image. Child on Forest Road, 1958, continues to be one of Dad's most beloved images.

~ Barbara Bullock-Wilson