Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

Lumbering, bushy, and fiercely protective of those he cared about, Sandy Justice was a big bear of a man. When my father met him in the mid-1950s, he was living as the caretaker on Los Pesares, a ranch at the end of Partington Ridge Road, 1600 feet above the Pacific Ocean in the heart of rugged Big Sur country.

Homesteaded by his eccentric friend Jaime de Angulo who had passed away in 1950, the ranch on Sandy's watch became a place of refuge for an odd assortment of individuals who were welcomed to stay for a night, a week, a month, or as long as needed. You never knew exactly who you might encounter there, but you could be sure that they had passed muster and had received Sandy's personal invitation to take up residence.

A libertarian to the core, Sandy was vigilant when it came to safeguarding the privacy and freedoms he valued for himself and those under his care. He was suspicious of any uninvited visitors, and he could become downright hostile toward curious journalists and photographers.

Dad was the exception. As far as I know, he was the only photographer Sandy ever allowed on the ranch. Introduced to each other by a mutual friend, Dad and Sandy experienced an immediate rapport. Although very different in body and mind, they both had open hearts. Recognizing they each cared little for surface appearance and instead responded deeply to essence, they quickly developed a warm, easy kinship.

Shortly after their initial meeting, Sandy gave Dad carte blanche to photograph at the ranch anytime he wished regardless of whether Sandy was there or not. Once when he was asked why he had given Dad such special dispensation, Sandy declared, "That Wynn Bullock, he's just a god-damned pillar of love!"

During the last half of the 1950s, Los Pesares and the old cement house that Jaime had built there in the early '30s became favorite locations for Dad. Sometimes he drove down to the ranch with a model. Jeanne accompanied him on several occasions and together they produced many beautiful images, including Nude by Sandy's Window, 1956.

Other times, Dad photographed alone as when he made this month's Featured Image Christmas at Sandy's, 1956. Although perhaps less well-known than some other images made at the ranch, it evokes a vivid sense of place and I love it for that.

Dad also enjoyed working with people who were part of Sandy's mutable community. On one of his weekly trips to the Monterey Peninsula to stock up on provisions and replenish his stores of cigarettes and jug wine, Sandy came across a young pregnant woman who was wandering the streets with no place to call home. He invited her to return to the ranch with him where she and her baby-to-be could live in relative peace and safety.

Marilyn accepted Sandy's offer and quickly settled in. After meeting Dad on one of his visits, she became interested in modeling for him, not only to earn a bit of money, but also to be part of a process she found meaningful.

As it turned out, the two worked very well together. An early example of their collaboration is the image Marilyn, 1956. Later, Dad made several photographs with Marilyn and her son, including two of his most famous and frequently reproduced images: Navigation without Numbers, 1957; and Child on Forest Road, 1958.

When I was about 11 or 12, Dad thought it would be interesting for me to personally experience what life was like at Sandy's. Dad asked Sandy if it would be all right to bring me down, knowing how Sandy felt about the issue of privacy and understanding that he might refuse. Much to his delight, Sandy gave our visit his blessing and even asked if we could stay for dinner.

One of the aspects I remember most about the event was not the actual visit but how Dad prepared me for it. He explained that I was going to a place that was very different than what I was used to. It was not neat and tidy. There were going to be kids and grown-ups wandering around in varying degrees of dress - many wearing no clothes at all. It might seem noisy and chaotic at times with an assortment of animals roaming here and there and I might be offered food that was unfamiliar or at least called by different names.

He cautioned that some of the people would be very friendly and others might be aloof and disinterested. And he asked me to respect their desire to remain secluded from the attentions of the outside world by keeping what I experienced within the bounds of our family.

The visit unfolded just as Dad had foretold and I did my 11-year-old best to be "natural" and "cool" in the middle of a rather alien but fascinating world. By the time we left, that world had become less alien and acting natural had at some point become a genuine feeling.

In truth, it was a life-enhancing experience, and whenever I look at Christmas at Sandy's and the many candid photos Dad took over the years of Sandy, Marilyn, her baby Randy, and others at the ranch, I remember and I'm grateful.

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