PRINT December 1964


Wynn Bullock at the Toren Gallery

Like Ansel Adams, Wynn Bullock is deeply concerned with the problem that has been uppermost in man's mind since he began to think in abstract terms: his interrelationship with nature in the cosmic scheme. But whereas Adams seems to reject man as an unimportant and accidental manifestation (mountains are eternal; man's life is fleeting; one man is very like another), Bullock seems always to look at nature subjectively—the natural world around him exists for his possession and enjoyment. Adams calls attention to the grandeur of nature. Bullock's nature is intimate, personal, a symbolic extension of man's philosophy. The redwood tree in the forest dies, but the horsetail springs up in its place, feeding on the decaying tree. Moonlight reflected from a river flowing into the sea is important only because man sees it, and the scene enriches his life.

Bullock is tolerant of man's foibles, often amused by them. Man is indeed fleeting, but look at the wonderful way he orders his life; look at the peculiar things he leaves behind. Those broken fence posts which meaninglessly line the hill below a disused water tower—once a man found it necessary to mark limits on this grassy hillside, he sweated many hours to establish this fence, digging postholes, tamping in the posts, stringing the wire. And look at the hillside now—a solid stand of dry grass which almost buries the fence posts. And that typewriter, charred and melted almost beyond recognition—who used it? What did he write—a novel, love letters, notices of overdue accounts? Who sat in that chair burned until only a fragment remains? Who lovingly fashioned that scarecrow to protect what crop? Bullock's photographs are concerned with man as an individual; Adams is involved with the more general mankind.

To symbolize man's interrelationship with his surroundings and his past, Bullock often includes in a landscape a tiny, sometimes almost invisible, figure. But—and it is difficult to tell if he does it deliberately to emphasize man's awareness of impermanence in the presence of nature and his own artifacts—he catches his figures in such uncomfortable poses. His boy standing unnaturally spraddle-legged on the weathered dock has just shouted over his shoulder, “It this the way you want me to stand?” A nude girl against a tree looks bewildered to find herself in such a place. And the young girl, lying face down under the redwoods among the ferns and oxalis, one of Bullock's best known prints, has always seemed the most artificial of all. One might perhaps conclude that Bullock was ill-at-ease photographing people, and communicated his discomfort to his models. There are, in fact, only two or three portraits which show faces; paradoxically, one is a magnificent, haunting study of a girl, half human, half mask.

Bullock's philosophy seems to be summed up in his photograph of an abandoned cabin—the girl seen through an empty window frame is no more, no less, important than a dry weed in front of the door. His photographs have been shown in many places—there were several in “The Family of Man,” there have been a few in group shows—but it has taken this one-man show to do justice to his reflective point of view.

Margery Mann