Wynn Bullock (April 18, 1902 – November 16, 1975) was an American photographer whose work is included in over 90 major museum collections around the world. He received substantial critical acclaim during his lifetime, published numerous books and is mentioned in all the standard histories of modern photography.
Bullock was born in Chicago and raised in South Pasadena, California. After high school graduation, he moved to New York to pursue a musical career and was hired as a chorus member in Irving Berlin’s Music Box Revue. He occasionally sang the primary tenor role when headliner John Steele was unable to appear and then was given a major role with the Music Box Review Road Company
. During the mid-1920s, he furthered his career in Europe, studying voice and giving concerts in France, Germany and Italy.
While living in Paris, Bullock became fascinated with the work of the Impressionists and post-Impressionists. He then discovered the work of Man Ray
and László Moholy-Nagy
and experienced an immediate affinity with photography, not only as an art form uniquely based on light, but also as a vehicle through which he could more creatively engage with the world. He bought his first camera and began taking pictures.
During the Great Depression of the early 1930s, Bullock stopped his European travels and settled in West Virginia to manage his first wife's family business interests. He stopped singing professionally, completed some pre-law courses at the state university, and continued to take photographs as a hobby. In 1938, he moved his family back to Los Angeles and enrolled in law school at the University of Southern California where his mother Georgia Bullock (California's first woman jurist) had studied law. Completely dissatisfied after a few weeks, he left USC and became a student of photography at the nearby Art Center School
From 1938 to 1940, Bullock became deeply involved in exploring alternative processes such as solarization and bas relief. After graduation from Art Center, his experimental work was exhibited in one of Los Angeles County Museum of Art
's early solo photographic exhibitions. During the early 40s, he worked as a commercial photographer and then enlisted in the Army. Released from the military to photograph for the aircraft industry, he was first employed at Lockheed and then headed the photographic department of Connors-Joyce until the end of the war.
Remarried, and with a new daughter, Bullock traveled throughout California from 1945 to 1946, producing and selling postcard pictures while co-owning a commercial photographic business in Santa Maria. He also worked on developing a way to control the line effect of solarization for which he later was awarded two patents. In 1946, he settled with his family in Monterey, where he had obtained the photographic concession at the Fort Ord military base. He left the concession in 1959, but continued commercial free-lance work until 1968.
A major turning point in Bullock's life as a creative photographer occurred in 1948, when he met Edward Weston
. Inspired by the power and beauty of Weston's prints, he began to explore "straight photography" for himself. Throughout the decade of the 1950s, he devoted himself to developing his own vision, establishing deep, direct connections with nature. A lifelong learner, he also read widely in the areas of physics, general semantics, philosophy, psychology, eastern religion and art. Studying the work of such people as Albert Einstein, Korzybski, Alfred North Whitehead, Bertrand Russell, LaoTzu and Klee, he kept evolving his own dynamic system of principles and concepts that both reflected and nurtured his creative journey.
Bullock came into the public spotlight when Museum of Modern Art
curator Edward Steichen
chose two of his photographs for the 1955 Family of Man
exhibition. When the exhibition was shown at the Corcoran Gallery
in Washington, D.C., his photograph Let There Be Light
, was voted most popular. The second, Child in Forest
, became one of the exhibition’s most memorable images. By the end of that decade, his work was widely exhibited and published worldwide and in 1957, he was honored with a medal from the Salon of International Photography.
During the early 1960s, Bullock departed from the black-and-white imagery for which he was known and produced a major body of work, Color Light Abstractions
, which expressed his belief that light is a great force at the heart of all being. Further image-making innovation included alternative approaches including extended time exposures, photograms, and negative printing.
During the 1960s and 1970s Bullock expanded his influence through other roles. In 1968, he became a trustee and chairman of the exhibition committee during formative years at Friends of Photography in Carmel, California. He taught advanced photography courses at Chicago’s Institute of Design during Aaron Siskind
’s sabbatical and at San Francisco State College at John Gutmann’s invitation. In the last decades of his life, he lectured widely, participated in many photographic seminars and symposia, and was a guest instructor for the Ansel Adams Yosemite Workshops. Bullock died at the age of 73 in November 1975.
Along with Ansel Adams
, Harry Callahan
, Aaron Siskind, and Frederick Sommer, he was one of the founding photographers whose archives established the Center for Creative Photography
in 1975. The Bullock collection consists of 223 prints and 90 linear feet of archival materials, including personal papers, diaries, correspondence, activity files, audio-visual and photographic materials. The archive offers significant information on the exhibition, publication, and sale of Bullock's photographs; his experiments with solarization; his involvement with the Friends of Photography; and his teaching activities. The collection offers insight into Bullock's attitudes toward his own work and the development of his philosophical approach to the medium.
Source: Center for Creative Photography