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A Sea of Voices From the Past

You’ve probably never heard of him. Unless you’re a serious photographer.

from the Wynn Bullock website

I went to the Wynn Bullock retrospective at the High Museum of Art in Atlanta, expecting 100 photographs that mimicked Ansel Adams, his more famous contemporary.

Instead, I found myself alone. Wandering three galleries of otherworldly photographs. Unlike anything. Unique.

Would it be weird to admit some of the images called to me?

I stood before a rock.

And saw a person.

Colors merged to form nebulae. Constellations. Even planets.

The landscape of Bullock’s face was preserved in Vaseline. I gazed into his open eye.

And witnessed the hereafter.

Wynn Bullock died in 1975. His photographs are memory, a recording of how he saw the world.

I wish I could see the world as he did.

Because I couldn’t take pictures of his work, I captured a quote.

wynn bullock

What’s right in front of you, waiting to be perceived? What could you see in the world, if only you looked? How would that perspective revolutionize your life, if you chose to focus on it?

I stumbled out in tears. Because I don’t see. Because I waste time. Because I fail to glorify the things that matter and relegate what should be remembered to obscurity.

Wynn Bullock wanted to be remembered. Otherwise, he would’ve destroyed his photographs.

Meriwether Lewis wanted to be remembered. Otherwise, he would’ve burned his journals.

I want to be remembered.

For my words.

Is that vanity?

Call it what you will.


Who will someday die.

And be forgotten.

This post is part of a series. To read the first post, click here: Desperately Seeking a Shepherd; to read the second post, click here: College Football? What a Waste of Time!; to read the third post, click here: Promiscuous Read: The Plover by Brian Doyle; to read the fourth post, click here: Sex With Cars.

46 Comments Post a comment
  1. That photo is stunning, I’m going to see if I can find more online….

    And I love that quote, it’s so true. The way you look at something can turn it into something completely different. It reminds me of another quote: “Happiness is a state of mind”, i.e. happy people don’t just have more than non happy people, the way they look at what they’re given is what makes them happy.

    Oh and I’m with you, I also want to be remembered for my word. I don’t think it’s vain, I think it means we’re striving to be more than what we are now. And that can only be a good thing, surely!

    July 18, 2014
    • I’ve been giving talks about this around the state, asserting that people want to be remembered for things other than ‘being a good person.’ It’s tacky to admit that, as humans, we actually want to be remembered for something we did or accomplished.

      A funeral director came up to me last week and said, “Thank you for saying that out loud. Because it’s so true. I deal with death, and I see what people wanted.”

      July 18, 2014
      • I don’t think it’s tacky, it’s very very true. I can see it with my grandfather, what he leaves behind, his legacy, is really important to him.

        July 20, 2014
  2. This is such brilliant work…

    July 18, 2014
  3. #

    What a creative man Andra. I googled his work. I want to live in this moment and I don’t really care if I am remembered as eventually most are not. ♥

    July 18, 2014
    • I hope that if I live in my various moments, someone will remember a few of them someday.

      July 18, 2014
      • #

        I am pragmatic and follow history. I will remember you!

        July 18, 2014
  4. Never hear of him before, and now I am glad I have. Thank you!

    July 18, 2014
  5. Lance #

    I know close to nothing about artistic photography but I know of him. I’ve seen his work at the High Museum before and Michael Stipe and the REM guys were huge fans and they’ve mentioned him before.

    July 18, 2014
    • This is a great exhibit at the High. 100 photos.

      July 18, 2014
      • Lance #

        I need to hire you as my social planner.

        July 18, 2014
      • I’d make more money than writing. Ha.

        July 18, 2014
  6. I dig his stuff. I guess when I do photograph I do it in a similar way, where I am not necessarily taking photos of what I am taking photos off. When I look at things I see lines and shapes and colors. Well I imagine that is what everyone sees, but then they immediately start decyphering them, whereas I leave them as lines/shapes/colors and leave my brain off for a bit to not be concerned with what all of that means, and just enjoy it for that. And then I try to take a photo that I can only hope intrigues other people so I can try to share what I see and get people to see that, even if for a moment.

    July 18, 2014
  7. oh, this is absolutely beautiful, andra. i think it is wonderful to be moved by art, i think that is the artist’s wish, that others would be moved, in whatever way, just as he/she was in the creating of it. just like writers, word artists, like you.

    July 18, 2014
    • I’m just sorry I’d never heard of him before. I’m glad his family is leaving so much of his work to the High, because it’s a great museum.

      July 18, 2014
  8. Kir Piccini #

    the first picture took my breath away and now I’ll spend half my Friday looking him up and trying to see more of his work.

    I love you wrote about wanting to be remembered, how we leave our words here for someone (anyone?!) to be think of us and say “I knew her. I read her words.” Our lives seem so busy and chaotic (even as we “connect” more and more through SM) that we do miss so much , we almost forget to breath. I can only imagine those pictures forced you, in the best ways, to take in some air.

    thank you for sharing him with us.

    July 18, 2014
    • I feel less connected than ever right now. I give presentations that make people line up to share their stories with me, and I have to multi-task to the point that I don’t feel like I can really listen, though I try. I try to read so many things every day, and even though I read them, I feel like I’m not honoring the various people with enough time. Social media is an endless tidal wave, a beast with an insatiable appetite.

      July 18, 2014
      • Kir Piccini #

        without leaving another long reply, I agree. In my quest to be a good cheerleader, a good friend, support, mom, wife and person I am giving up more than I have. I know you are listening and that means quite a bit to me. You write from a place inside that is inspiring and enviable. So when I visit you here, I know that I will click away changed, for the better.

        July 18, 2014
  9. I can’t remember who first brought Bullock to my attention but I don’t think I’m lying when I say it changed my work. Looking at the Atlanta catalog and then looking through what I regard as the best of my Hudson pictures, I can see the influence much more clearly.
    I think he is not as well known as Adams or Weston because his images are more fantastical, less “realistic” and mid-century America was a very realistic place (See Happy Days and Grease)!

    July 18, 2014
    • I really loved the colorful, outer space ones. They also displayed a collage of close-ups, and in several of them, he captured alien faces.

      July 18, 2014
  10. An evocative post, Andra. I kinda, sorta knew of Wynn Bullock. Kinda. You have, in your post today, compelled me to look a little further. Thank you.

    I love being alone in a gallery, undistracted by others, seeing only what I see.

    July 18, 2014
    • Maybe some of his work will travel to the Art Institute, Penny. At the High, I’m almost never alone in a gallery. It was a gift to have the whole exhibit to myself.

      July 18, 2014
      • I’ll hope so, Andra.
        A gift indeed. Good for you for accepting it.

        July 19, 2014
  11. Like you, Andra, I too want to leave art behind that someone may find and rejoice in. I constantly ask myself if it’s vanity and wish I could be more like the people who left the paintings on the walls of those caves in France. But I am who I am, my ego is what it is, and I’ve accepted that vanity probably is a part of it. Because I’m human I am not completely self-aware, so I’m fairly certain there are other reasons for my desire as well. I just haven’t stumbled over them yet.

    July 18, 2014
    • I really don’t believe it’s ego, Jim, as much as a base human need. It’s a big reason some people have children. It’s at the heart of why many people give money and plaster their names on buildings and parks and whatnot. I’m sure it’s why most politicians want to name bridge overpasses and highways after themselves. It’s an effort to preserve oneself once the inevitable happens. A survival instinct more than ego, I think. Those cave painters may as well have written, “We were here” on the walls.

      July 18, 2014
      • I like your notion of the survival instinct. I think it may be the big umbrella under which ego seeks shelter, with more company than I can name..

        July 23, 2014
  12. The moment I saw the first photo, I thought of Ansel Adams. And then I read the connection below! Such gorgeous work!

    July 18, 2014
    • I chose that one because it won an award, though much of his other photography spoke to me more.

      July 18, 2014
  13. I have mixed feelings on this. Specifically the idea that Bullock and Lewis left their photos and journals because they wanted to be remembered.

    I think it’s natural to WANT to be remembered. To hope that after your gone, a legacy remains, so that you’re not erased completely. But I don’t know that the NEED to be remembered is what drove those who are remembered by us.

    We remember plenty of people who left neither works of visual art or published prose. Sometimes it’s because of the impact they had on society. Sometimes it’s for horrific acts they committed. Sometimes it’s because they made a profound impact on us as personally. Those in the last category may not be remembered by many, in fact their story may only be known by friends and family, but is often passed from generation to generation.

    Perhaps they created what they did, or lived the way they lived for the desired outcome of being remembered forever. I like to hope not though. I like to hope that they did what they did, lived how they lived, because that was their truth. And the amazing by-product of that truth was a legacy of remembrance.

    July 18, 2014
    • Lewis’s most controversial journal entry came on the eve of his 32nd birthday. He wrote that he hadn’t done nearly enough for the good of mankind, and he was going to redouble his efforts to contribute something useful. Many in the suicide camp point to it as evidence of the melancholy that ultimately forced him to take his life, though I disagree. Lewis knew his journals would be read. He already knew he’d be remembered for them, though to what extent, he couldn’t know.

      Every shard we shear off has the potential to live beyond us. In someone’s memory. In a journal, online or off. In images of how we see the world or how the world sees us. In the things we make and collect and value.

      I guess I feel this way because I likely have fewer years left than I have lived, and I feel like I’ve wasted so much of my own life (much like Lewis did at 32.) But I don’t think most people take risks and embark upon big things without hoping they will make a difference, without believing they will resonate with a few people or (with luck) many. Are people conscious of this when they undertake things? Sometimes. Sometimes not. It’s all part of the truth of life. Because, even though I’m failing miserably as a writer by every accepted standard of measure today, I’m still writing. I’m still hoping I have something to say that will make a difference to someone, somewhere, be it now or 500 years from now. Is that ego? Living in a way that isn’t true to myself? If it’s the former, I don’t care. If it’s the latter, I can only say I lived the first 30-something years of my life being untrue to myself. Today, this is my truth. In a year or twenty, who knows what my truth will be? I just hope I’m conscious enough to laugh and cry and embrace and rage and experience the discovery.

      July 18, 2014
      • That’s all any of us can hope for, Andra; that we are conscious and awake enough to realize our truth and live our lives fully.

        Like you, I am closer to the end of my life than the beginning at this point, and I am *trying* to make each day count. I fail miserably most days. But every now and then I smile as I fall asleep, knowing it happened and that it’s possible.

        July 18, 2014
  14. I live vicariously through you

    July 18, 2014
    • I say that all the time to groups at speaking engagements. I research so many of the places I appear, and they’re always such interesting groups. I usually say, “I want to be a vicarious member!!”

      July 18, 2014
  15. tarakianwarrior #

    Hmmmm, Interesting. I’m not sure I care whether anyone remembers me or not. Hopefully I have made the world, or my portion of it, a better place in which to reside. Hopefully I haven’t destroyed anything – people, place or thing. I’m truly not sure if I care if they remember me. Hmmmmm.

    July 18, 2014
  16. You’ve set me on to a new exploration, Andra. I would really like to know more about Wynn Bullock. I admire his work from just the one photo that you shared! And I think I am solidly in one with his beliefs, at least as you voiced them. I spend a lot of time “looking” and finding little miracles of nature and delighting in the unexpected. It’s a high priority in my life because that is how I keep stress from accumulating. I suspect you do, too much more than you realize, and maybe just need to have your consciousness pumped up a bit by someone who obviously was a master. I hope that at some point I have the opportunity to see his work up close!

    July 19, 2014
  17. I love it when I can find the time to read your blog Andra. I carve out special time to read the blog and the comments as well. Very thought provoking thoughts in the comments here. Loved the photo but I have never heard of the photographer until now. Once again you have opened up another portal to a universe I am not familiar with. 🙂

    July 22, 2014
  18. You’re not alone, Andra. I too want to be remembered for my words.

    July 26, 2014

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