Discuss a Wynn Bullock image...

Discussion in 'Discussing a ****** Photograph' started by CarlRadford, Nov 24, 2006.

  1. CarlRadford

    CarlRadford Member

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    I read most of these discussions avidly and have been waiting for someone to post Wynn Bullock's "Navigation Without Numbers" - plucked up the courage to do it myself. There are few images that move me to the extent that this does. Might say something of my personal or work background - might just be that that it connects at a level I am not able to articulate or appreciate the emotions it brings to the fore - for me at least! The tension, grief, desperation and resignation of the female - the gesture of the hand - the infant - innocent! I'd just love to see a real print of this image, I'd probably weep - inwardly at least!

    http://www.artnet.com/magazine/reviews/cassidy/Images/cassidy1-22-2.jpg
     
  2. wfe

    wfe Member

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    I am a Wynn Bullock fan and this is certainly a very interesting photograph. Perhaps parental stress contrasted by the relaxed infant who is of course totally dependent on the parent.

    Cheers,
    Bill
     
  3. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    My first reaction is that it seems contrived. Upon futher examination I guess it's a "stylized examination" of motherhood perhaps.

    I'm still digesting it.

    Michael
     
  4. CarlRadford

    CarlRadford Member

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    Contrived...

    Please no - this would shatter the image for me. I have read that he "used" many models and have seen many images that were obviously constructed - this just appeals on a higher level for me and to know that it was completely false would be a blow somehow!

     
  5. bjorke

    bjorke Member

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    For all I know Bullock spet all his time on this getting the texture of the little hutch in the background Just Right.

    I don't recall seeing this one before (though I do have a book of Bullock somewhere...). Given the space given to the wall, the blackness of the cover, the spill of light, I get the impression that this could be a metaphoric portrayal of life projecting itself out of blackness towards light through a random and somewhat indifferent existence. But that reading comes only becasue of the title, and obviously YMMV
     
  6. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    I am a great fan of Bullock and have thought about posting an image. I put it off hoping someone else would have a take on his work. Thanks Carl for posting.

    This image is one that can carry on a dialogue with the viewer that can evolve over the years. Being marrried with two daughters, this image has come to represent the bond between child and mother that while always present becomes more and more tenuous with time.

    We usually think in terms of a child being dependent on the mother, but the relationship also goes the other way. A mother is dependent on the child to make her complete, and yet from the day of birth the destiny of the child is to be seperate from the mother.

    The title, Navigation Without Numbers makes me think of the child while dependent on the mother for near term survival and nurturing already has all the data needed to chart its own course.

    Now the great thing about such images is that if someone revisits this image a year form now I might have a new idea or insight that is totally different. But whatever I think, I will always consider it a classic image of the last century.
     
  7. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    I like Wynn Bullock in general. Like blansky, I feel as though many of his images including humans are highly contrived. BUT, that doesn't detract from them, at least not to me. When I say they look contrived, I mean they obviously aren't found images. The photographer took models to this setting and arranged a photo. What I like about this is it means the photographer had something in mind, but at the same time we don't know what it is. It is a wonderful starting point, makes you wonder what it meant to him. This wondering, in turn, probably makes the viewer ready to explore the potential meanings of the image in many avenues, most of which were probably not anything the Bullock thought of...or maybe he did.
     
  8. Troy Hamon

    Troy Hamon Member

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    Just a brief additional note...

    Many photographers make contrived images. What determines whether I find them interesting is whether they are trite. I don't find Bullock's images trite, rather I find them quite complex and mysterious. They offer questions, not answers. Which is why I like them, every time I look they make me think.
     
  9. PaulH

    PaulH Subscriber

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    One of my favorites by one of my favorite artists. In the notes to this photo in the Wynne Bullock book in the Phaidon 55 series it states that he did not fabricate this scene. The following is the rest of the note to this picture.

    "The woman was a waif who had been given shelter by the caretaker of a remote ranch in Big Sur. It was a favorite site for Bullock and he had become friends with her, occasionally giving her work as a model. Earlier in the day , Bullock had been shaken by a strong premonition that she would eventually be forced to give up her son. When she put him on the bed for a nap and then moved to the edge of the it, the premonition seemed to come to life before his eyes. It should also be noted that the book on the window sill that gives the photograph its title is a classic text on how to make one's way across dark waters."​
     
  10. Poco

    Poco Member

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    The image made me think of Tomoko in Her Bath. Smith's photo affects me while Bullock's just makes me cringe. But maybe it's not a fair comparison.
     
  11. pentaxuser

    pentaxuser Subscriber

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    As another has said this isn't a found image. It's not photojournalism. However it hasn't been done for sheer gratuitous effect. Some viewers will be able to read more into it than others but there are certainly recognisable messages. The mother is in total despair. Her nakedness may indicate utter poverty and/or inability to carry on. She's in such despair/ depression that she cannot be bothered to dress. The child is naked for a different reason. Here it represents innocence and the sleeping means that it has no worries as children don't even in desperate circumstances. This makes the scene very poignant. You worry for both, especially for the child because its safety and well being depends on a mother who may no longer be able to provide it.

    They seem all alone. You assume that they have no support but the fact that it is contrived gives you some comfort. It isn't real. It's an allegory.

    Bert Hardy took a number of shots in Glasgow just after WWII of working class life .One shot is of a woman and her daughter in waht is a rundown one room flat. The daughter is probably in her early teens. The room is bare.They have nothing. The father is sleeping off a drunken night, doesn't work and spends what little money they have on drink. The state of the room is terrible. The mother looks beaten by life. The daughter's look says that it may have just dawned on her that her life is going to be exactly the same as her mother's.

    The photo by Wynn Bullock tends to have more immediate impact than the Bert Hardy shot but I find the Hardy one much more depressing.

    This shot allows a civilised intellectual dinner party/ gallery discussion. The Bert Hardy one doesn't. It shouts at you and silences you. There is little to be said.

    pentaxuser
     
  12. blansky

    blansky Subscriber

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    My comments on "contrived" don't necessarily have to do with "set up" but more with overly dramatic posing like the mother.

    Michael
     
  13. Peter De Smidt

    Peter De Smidt Member

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    I have this print and like it very much. The image itself is intriguing and lends itself to many interpretations. The tones are excellent. My favorite image by Bullock, which I also own, is "Nude at Sandy's Window." Check it out, if you can.
     
  14. CarlRadford

    CarlRadford Member

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    Although....

    I can't really see the direct comparison except in the dependence/need element why do you say its not a fair comparison?

     
  15. CarlRadford

    CarlRadford Member

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    Is this saying that Wynn's...

    images reflected his intellect and were made to make people think where as Bert's were instant impact atypical Picture Post images - made for a different audience?

     
  16. Poco

    Poco Member

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    Both are studies of mother/child. Both, it seems, deal with the love and anguish of the one for the other. When I look at Tomoko, the disfigurement registers, but only to provide context for the mother's loving glance. It's her face that can bring me to tears -- a mother's unquestioning, unwavering love for her child. For me, personally, Smith achieves in that face what Bullock can't do with an entire figure, melodramatically positioned (sorry, I don't believe it wasn't a "directed" moment).

    Anyway, that's why I said the comparison may not be fair: one is reportage and therefore has the extra sting of reality, while the other sure as heck has the feel of being staged.
     
  17. Struan Gray

    Struan Gray Member

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    I have tried to like Wynn Bullock, but can't. He's just too sentimental and mawkish for my taste: I am left feeling that either he is insincere, or far too easily satisfied.
     
    Last edited by a moderator: Nov 24, 2006
  18. matt miller

    matt miller Subscriber

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    Bullock is probably my favorite photographer, and this is one of my least favorite photographs of his. I don't understand his nudes. They are a pleasure to look at, but I don't get why he made them. I much prefer where he used light as his subject (Tail Lights, Worn Floor, The Shore (with Sun), Tide Pool 1957, Erosion 1956) and not an idea. Maybe I'm a lazy viewer.
     
  19. CarlRadford

    CarlRadford Member

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    I really appreciate the time and insight that people have given here - helps to expand my mind and hopefully my seeing!
     
  20. Jim Chinn

    Jim Chinn Member

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    When I look through a lot of Bullock's work it always reminds me of Minor White and some work of Paul Caponigro. There is often a mystical, multi-layering to his images.

    Bullock was not just interested in the literal represnetation of things even though he was considered part of the "California School" of photo realism. He used the LF camera and techniques of an Adams or Weston but sought a deeper meaning. In a compilation I have of Mid 20th century photographers the author talks of Bullock writing about the "need to find new symbols...that expand our minds so that we may be more home in this scientific and terrifying age."