NUDE BEHIND COBWEBBED WINDOW, 1955

Commentary by Paul Cotter

When Wynn Bullock asked this young nude model to go into the abandoned structure, she politely told him where to go. Seeing the cobwebs, rat droppings and creatures crawling inside, she said, "I'll stay outside and you go in."

And that's what he did. Wearing heavy protective work pants and boots, Bullock took his 8x10 camera into the bowels of the filthy ruins. It turned out to be a truly serendipitous decision. By shooting from the inside looking out – the opposite of what he'd originally intended – he saw her body bathed in an ethereal glow that added a transcendent quality to the image. I consider this one of the most beautiful nude photographs I've ever seen. It's not beautiful in the classic sense. We can't see the young woman's face, and her figure is obscured by cobwebs and the dark wood of the window panes. Some things are revealed, but so much remains concealed. And that, for me, is the source of this photo's beauty - the haunting, evocative sense of mystery.

Bullock said that when he started photographing nudes in the 1950s, his work progressed to a higher level. He stopped seeing things as "objects" and began observing them as "dynamic events" — constantly changing and deeply interwoven with every other piece in the fabric of time and space.

As Bullock explained, "By introducing the nude into my pictures, I started perceiving all the things I was photographing in new ways Although at the time I couldn't fully analyze it, I recognized that photographing nudes made my pictures infinitely better. I knew I was on my way."

One of the insights he gained during this period involved the principle of opposites, which is shown so eloquently in this photo. We see a young body with smooth lustrous skin, illuminated by radiant light. As a stark contrast, we see darkness and decay with encroaching overtones of death. Young/old light/dark smooth/rough life/death. Bullock understood that these opposites are separate but mutually dependent on each other, like two dancers in a tango. The concept of light can only be understood by comparing it to darkness, and vice versa.

Finally, we come to the presence of the window itself. Doorways and windows appear in several Wynn Bullock photos, and for him these elements provide more than a clever framing device. They represent boundaries between internal and external worlds, between the known and the unknown. They're passageways that invite us to look beyond our ordinary ways of seeing and to explore what's beyond our normal perception.

In photos like this, Wynn Bullock is asking: What can we see when we brush aside the cobwebs that cloud our views? He invites us to put on our metaphysical work pants and boots and join him in the journey of discovery.

Text © 2018 Paul Cotter. All rights reserved.