Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

When it came to identifying his images, my father's practice was to come up with the most concise, direct title he could think of. He didn't want to restrict a viewer's experience by assigning a title that might influence or guide that experience. By minimizing interpretation, he hoped to invite a rich, open, interactive process for both himself and others.

As a result, there are lots of images with identical titles: Big Sur, Del Monte Forest, Photogram, Rock, and Wood, to name a few. There are over forty images that Dad simply labeled Untitled. If it hadn't been for the demands of editors, publishers, museum curators, and gallerists, as well as the basic needs relating to ease and accuracy of communication, he might have used the word “Untitled” for all his images.

In order to manage this often confusing legacy of titles, our family began giving parenthetic sub-titles to those images with very similar or identical names. Although not part of the “real” titles, they became a kind of informal shorthand that was much easier for us to use than memorizing the dates and negative numbers associated with the titles which would have also made identification more precise.

Sub-titles such as “standing in window”, “big tree”, and “girl lying on beach”, were enormously helpful to all of us in knowing which image of Barbara, Lynne, and Untitled, we were dealing with. Not all our sub-titles, however, were as neutral as these. Mom, in particular, liked to come up with more vivid descriptors such as “Bacchus”, “howling dog”, and “veiled head”. All these are sub-titles for three different images that Dad identified as Wood. Understanding that her words were unofficial additions, she never worried about being suggestive or interpretive.

Point Lobos Rock is the title Dad gave to four of his images. Although three of them have different dates and all of them have discrete negative numbers, how we most frequently refer to these four photographs within our family is by their sub-titles.

Point Lobos Rock, 1973 or what we call “Klee head” is our featured image for this month. Our family sub-title arose because the image reminded us of Paul Klee's painting Senecio, 1922, and because it alluded to Dad's admiration for that artist and his work.

Dad once said, “Theoretical scientists who probe the secrets of the universe and philosophers who seek answers to existence, as well as painters such as Paul Klee who find the thoughts of men of science compatible with art, influence me far more than most photographers. My interest in such [people] is to share in their wonderment of nature and, in sharing, find added inducement to go out, look, feel, and photograph.”

One of Dad's treasured books was Paul Klee: the thinking eye. Initially published in English in 1961, the 541-page volume is a profusely illustrated compilation of Klee's writings and lecture notes that Dad studied in depth.

Interspersed among its pages are several notepapers and cards filled with Dad's own thoughts and responses written in his characteristic tiny scribbling. In one of his notes he reflects, “I have found Paul Klee's concepts inspiring. He says that the values or qualities of things are not permanently bound to the object, but to the existence of the objects. Reality is a never-ending metamorphosis.”

In another note, Dad quotes this passage, “We must be very clear about the aim of 'making visible'. Are we merely noting things seen in order to remember them or are we also trying to reveal what is not visible. Once we know and feel this distinction, we have come to the fundamental point of artistic creation.”

On other pages, Dad refers to Albert Einstein, Naum Gabo, and Bertrand Russell, revealing some of the many additional threads he continuously wove into the tapestry of his own evolving set of experiences and beliefs.

Throughout his creative journey, Dad produced images that reflected the profound connection he experienced between himself as a human being and the natural world. As he expressed it, “I totally disagree with the belief that nature was only made for the use of people. Human beings are not the center of the universe, and, if they are to sustain themselves, it is vitally important for them to be awakened to how closely they are linked with the rest of nature.”

Point Lobos Rock, 1973, is among the last group of photographs Dad made before his death in 1975. At the time, he was exploring the human/nature connections he so deeply felt in images that depicted faces in natural forms. In Point Lobos Rock, we are not only part of nature, we have become one with it. And by inviting us to look at ourselves in this intuitive, imaginative, non-literal way, the photograph also known as “Klee head”, frees us to see and understand more, to become more fully awake.

I believe Paul Klee would have been pleased with the association.

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