Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

It is late Sunday morning. My parents and I have just returned home from the early family service at All Saints Episcopal Church in Carmel. We quickly change into casual clothes, load the car with picnic goodies, and head south toward Big Sur with Dad in the driver's seat, Mom sitting ocean-side next to him, and me nestled in the back seat behind her.

As we motor past Point Lobos and Carmel Highlands, a Mozart horn concerto begins playing over the radio. Looking out the window, I watch sunlight sparkling the sea as waves spray their white foam against the steep, rugged shoreline. Within the car, there is the warmth of belonging and outside there is a wild beauty that brings another kind of comfort and connection. I am six years old, riding along Highway 1, and there is no other place on earth I would rather be.

Also known as the Big Sur Highway, the 90-mile stretch of California's coastal route between Carmel River and the southern border of Monterey County is a winding, two-lane road carved into mountains at the western edge of the North American continent. Breathtakingly scenic in all types of weather, but potentially treacherous on moonless nights or in heavy fog and storms, it is a road well-traveled and beloved by every member of the Bullock family.

When we did things together, Highway 1 served mostly as a pathway for pleasurable outings - family picnics, visits with friends, or simply rides down the coast. Sometimes these outings offered interesting opportunities for Dad to take photographs, and both he and we were always prepared for that to happen.

As a commercial photographer during the mid-1950s, Dad spent many days driving up and down the highway, taking pictures for the Big Sur Guide, Carmel Pacific Spectator Journal, and other tourist publications. It was enjoyable work and, just like our family excursions, it often led to opportunities for his own creative image-making.

Even when there was no particular assignment to fulfill or engagement to keep, Dad loved driving down the coast, immersing himself in the environment, receptive to what it had to share.

Being open and attentive to the natural world was central to his process as an artist. Along with his studies in theoretical physics, philosophy, and general semantics, what he learned through his experiences in nature continually deepened and expanded his capacities to perceive, explore, and create.

Our Featured Image Erosion, 1959, was taken right along Highway 1 just north of Soberanes Point in a section of the road that passes through Garrapata State Park. You can actually see some of the highway at the bottom of the photograph and little has changed about the place since the year it was made.

As a park, Garrapata is still largely undeveloped with only one small sign identifying its existence. Although there is significantly more traffic than there was in the 1950s, the roadway remains narrow and the hillsides continue to erode in intriguing patterns.

Now, whenever I drive through this section of the Big Sur landscape, I like to imagine the day in January 1959 when Dad parked his car in a nearby unpaved turn-out and walked back along the edge of the two-lane highway with his big 8 x 10 view camera to photograph the deeply familiar yet freshly meaningful scene before him.

For me, Erosion is an image that expresses much of what Dad's creative journey was all about. You can clearly see the surface of the land above and beyond the eroded forms as well as the cloudy sky and grit-lined road. Together with the bushes growing out of the earth, these elements are reminders of what is normally visible in a landscape.

Then there is the exposed earth itself - the roots and rocks and soil that exist beneath the surface - all that is usually hidden from view. Here, universal, dynamic forces may also be clearly seen: growth, death, change, and transformation.

More than this, the eroded patterns suggest a line of figures or "monk-like forms" as Dad annotated in his negative log. In its depths, the earth has energy, it has spirit. It is alive and we are kin to it.

Dad once wrote: "Mysteries lie all around us, even in the most familiar things, waiting to be perceived." I find Erosion, 1959, to be one of his most powerful and eloquent reflections of this belief.

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