Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

Over the course of his photographic career, my father produced such a significant body of work featuring the nude that in the mid-1980s my mother and I produced a book that focused exclusively on this imagery. We titled it simply Wynn Bullock: Photographing the Nude and publisher Gibbs M. Smith released it in 1984.

Dad frequently said the nudes he started photographing in the early 1950s marked the true beginning of his creative work. In my Introduction to the book, I quote one of his statements about the importance of the nude in his image-making journey:

"The change began around 1951. I realized when I was photographing, I was really doing object arrangements because that was the way I was taught in school. Then, during the two years I was influenced by Edward Weston, I was almost exclusively taking seascapes and forests, but I found a lack there. I needed something to pull me further into my own way of feeling. I began working with nudes and this did two things.

"First, human beings to me are as much a part of nature as trees or birds, and the unclothed body expresses this belongingness directly and powerfully. Thus, photographing nudes in nature allowed me to express things I deeply felt and believed in.

"Second, a person is quite different from a tree or rock or stream. By introducing the nude into my pictures, I started perceiving all the things I was photographing in new ways. In contrast or opposition to each other, things became much more significant and interesting, revealing many more qualities than I had ever dreamed of knowing and expressing.

"By using the nude, I stopped thinking in terms of objects. I was seeing things instead as dynamic events, unique in their own beings yet also related and existing together within a universal context of energy and change. I began expressing these perceptions in my pictures. Although at the time I couldn't fully analyze it, I recognized that photographing nudes made my pictures infinitely better. I knew I was on my way."

Although Dad created most of his nude imagery during the decade of the 1950s (often using family members as his models), he continued to work with the human figure whenever interesting opportunities arose. Immersed in exploring other photographic paths during the 1960s and early 70s, he never felt the need to seek those opportunities. They occasionally came to him, however, in the form of referrals from fellow artists or even models themselves who admired his photography and wanted to work with him.

One fruitful connection occurred in the late 1960s and led to the making of Girl on Beach, 1968. Depicted in this photograph is a wealth of contrasting elements that enliven and enrich the symbolic power of the image. Light and dark; rock and water; motion and rest; angles and curves; small and large; human and non-human; smooth and rough; young and old; particular and universal; organic and inorganic; personal and impersonal; serenity and turbulence; duration and transience…and these are just some of the qualities and forces that may be perceived and responded to.

Through our website and newsletters we have a standing invitation for people to suggest images they would like us to feature. Last year California photographer Bruce Blosser proposed Girl on Beach with the comment that the picture has always been a bit unsettling for him. He wrote, "…it has always seemed that the entire ocean is poised, just waiting, to come rushing in. Needless to say, it leaves me worrying for her safety…. However, it has only recently come to me that perhaps, in some way, she is holding back the sea, somehow pacifying the very un-aptly named Pacific Ocean."

For Dad, working with a model was always a collaborative and spontaneous process. He once said, "My pictures are never pre-visualized or planned. I can't anticipate the mood of the model, how she will react to a particular place, what the character of the light will be, or how I myself will respond to all these things."

"I feel strongly," he continued, "that pictures must come from contact with things at the time and place of taking. At such times, I rely on intuitive, perceptual responses to guide me, using reason only after the final print is made to accept or reject the results of my work. Although both intuition and reason are equally important tools that help me grow visually, the creative act itself comes from an intense, direct, one-to-one relationship between myself and whatever I photograph."

When Dad made Girl on Beach in 1968, he and his model had driven down along the Big Sur coast, both open to what they might find. They stopped frequently at scenic pull-outs and one particular cove called out to her. Dad was surprised and a bit concerned when she offered to scramble down the rocky cliff, but she assured him she would be fine.

As they were working there, people who also stopped to take in the views discovered there was something of even greater and more immediate interest going on. Gradually a small crowd gathered to watch, something that Dad related to us with considerable amusement after he returned home.

At the time, however, the spectators did not distract either Dad or his model from their shared creative process and, for me, the contemplative position she chose to take evokes a mindful, open attitude, one that Dad himself practiced in both his life and work.

Commentary Text © 2017 Barbara Bullock-Wilson. All rights reserved.