Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson

If you live on the Monterey Peninsula, you become well-acquainted with fog. It's often around to greet you first thing in the morning and again in late afternoon to bid you farewell. Sometimes, especially in summer, it settles in for the day, swirling through hillside and forest, over river and meadow, thickening and thinning at whim.

Along with coastal redwoods, I discovered early on that I thrive in fog. I love the hush of it and its refreshing caress on my skin. Embraced in its billowy coolness, I feel peacefully energized; and I never fail to be intrigued by the depth and mystery it lends to all I see.

When my parents and I moved to the north side of Carmel Hill in the late 1940s, there were only a handful of houses in the area and acres of undeveloped woodlands. As a child, I roamed the Hill behind our house to my heart's content. With my family, I went on walks up piney paths and along seldom-used roadways. In sunshine and fog, by ourselves and together, we enjoyed exploring our natural surroundings and often it was on quiet foggy days that we felt most connected to them.

I remember vividly the day my father first showed me one of his early images of a fog-filled forest. It was Del Monte Forest, 1951 and I was about five or six at the time. Taken in the pine woods a few minutes' drive - and less than an hour's walk - from our house, the photograph depicted much of what I had already come to love about our Monterey home.

As I was envisioning myself in the image, relishing the variety of sensations it evoked, Dad interrupted my reverie by saying, "Space is not emptiness, even when it appears empty. Space is fullness and this picture helps us see and know that."

Although my six-year-old ability to comprehend was limited, Dad's words struck a responsive chord. Because of them, I was actually able to experience space differently. That day, I also began a journey of understanding photography as a vehicle for learning - both for the artist and the viewer. Photography wasn't simply a way to make beautiful or interesting pictures that could be seen and enjoyed. It could stimulate and convey ideas, important ideas. And through these ideas, you could change and grow.

Over the years, Dad created several other images with fog and mist, including Del Monte Forest, 1956; Grandma and Lynne, 1956; Stark Tree, 1956; Night Scene, 1959; and Foggy Forest, 1969.

In 1971, Scrimshaw Press published the first major monograph of Dad's work. Invited to write the text, I chose to start it with a description of Del Monte Forest, 1956. I later discovered editor/publisher Dave Bohn had chosen the same image for the Frontispiece of the book. For each of us, it was an image quietly and eloquently expressive of Dad's creative search.

This month's Featured Image is another photograph of a fog-filled forest. While revealing many of the event qualities and universal forces symbolized in previous pictures, Del Monte Forest, 1969 is distinctive in also reflecting Dad's continuing journey as an image-maker.

At the end of the 1960s and into the early 1970s, Dad returned to an exploration of humanity's relationships with the natural world. However, unlike his photographs of the 1950s, which were more literal depictions of human beings and their artifacts, his later work was more abstract and metaphorical. He created images in which traces of humanity could be seen in trees, wood bark, rocks, and other natural forms.

In a statement published by the Friends of Photography in their third quarter 1973 issue of Untitled 5, Dad wrote the following:

"The work of the last two years is more archetypal than my previous work. I think that it comes from a source that I feel deeply, that I myself can't rationalize and have no particular urge to rationalize. I just feel it. I'm still exercising the disciplines that I've given myself in terms of how I spatially arrange events, use tones, and so on. Therefore I can let myself go in this new way. I feel that I'm getting nearer to some of the things that I never [have fully] understood about myself and the world about me. Many of those…relate symbolically to some of the deepest [realities] of life: birth, death, order - the universals. These are Everyman's - not just the way in which I see them personally, but perceivable by all of us."

Looking closely at the broken tree trunk in Del Monte Forest, 1969, you can see a suggestion of humanity - an intimation of a face and body that evokes a multitude of associations. For me, it calls to mind an ancient king - decrepit, yet still dignified in bearing; succumbing as all things must to death and transformation.

Whatever associations are evoked in the minds of individual viewers, one of the insights this image offers is profound, elemental unity. Just as the fabric of space is symbolized by the presence of fog, so humanity's essential connection with the rest of nature is expressed by the broken trunk. We are part of the tapestry of all existence, we belong. Del Monte Forest, 1969, helps me experience this. Feeling it in the depths of my being, I am changed.

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