Commentary by Paul Cotter

This is where my Wynn Bullock journey began: with an ethereal, ghostlike photo that was shot at Cannery Row in Monterey in 1958. I was in a bookstore when I was introduced to Bullock by way of a small hardcover volume in Aperture's Masters of Photography series. Flipping through the pages, I was moved by the soulful images and the rich, dark tones of Bullock's work.

And when I reached this image - The Pilings - I stood breathless. The dark craggy shapes rose up like tombstones in the swirling mist of an otherworldly landscape. Like many viewers seeing this image for the first time, I assumed that the mist had been created by early morning fog. But as I came to study Wynn Bullock and learn more about his work and his ideas, I discovered that no fog was present here; I was looking at a long exposure that allowed the waves of water to wash back and forth, back and forth, like an artist's brush on a canvas.

In the film Wynn Bullock: Photographer by Thom Tyson, Bullock talks about the evolution of this image. The first exposure he made was an ordinary view, capturing the scene as he saw it with his eyes. This wasn't what he was envisioning, so he took another picture using a long intermittent-time exposure. A dreamy mist appeared, but it still wasn't what he saw in his mind. He made a third exposure - moodier, more dreamlike - and with this photo, he finally had the image he wanted.

The camera position hadn't changed. The scene hadn't changed. As Bullock pointed out, "Nothing had changed but my perception."

This marked a turning point in how I understood photography and its potential to do more than simply "copy and paste" the views of the world as our eyes see them.

Wynn Bullock used creative techniques like long intermittent-time exposures to open our eyes to new ways of seeing. He explained, "What you see is real - but only on the particular level to which you've developed your sense of seeing. You can expand your reality by developing new ways of perceiving. I love the medium of photography for, with its unique realism, it gives me the power to go beyond conventional ways of seeing and understanding and say, 'This is real, too.'"

As I've pondered Bullock's philosophies over the years, I've come to think of time as a deck of cards. In a typical photograph, we see one single card - an isolated instant, frozen in time with a click of the shutter. Our usual experience of time, as we go about our daily lives, is to see the stack being flipped with a thumb - creating the illusion of motion and continuity, with the instants blending together.

In his photos like The Pilings, Bullock is showing us something altogether different. He is showing the entire stack at once. It's as if the whole stack has been made semi-transparent, allowing us to see past, present and future in a single view.

This photographic technique, using long exposures, has become common in the ensuing decades since Wynn Bullock experimented with it. But when Bullock took this photo and others like it, he was exploring fresh territory. And he had a deeper purpose in mind, which was to ripen our understanding of time and space and the miracles that surround us.

Text © 2017 Paul Cotter. All rights reserved.