On a memorable Saturday afternoon a few months ago, my eyes were opened to a special artist. While there was only time to view a few of her photographs, her spirit so filled each print I could feel the artist presence in each one. Every image suggested movement and harmony. In some, there was an added sparkle of lively humor; in others a nurturing embrace.
Edna Bullock became an ’emerging’ artist in photography at age 61. As a dancer in her youth, she was inspired by Isadora Duncan, Martha Graham, and Ruth St. Denis. She also enjoyed the comic side of dance and developed her own style of light-hearted tap. From the early 1940s to the mid-1970s, she spent her time as a choreographer, physical education and home economics teacher, wife, and mother. In her home life, she made clothing for her family, including men’s shirts, overcoats, and evening gowns. Some articles are still being worn with loving appreciation for the skill and attention to detail that are evident in every long-lasting stitch. Other handcrafts such as macramé, needlework, were also ways of expression as were flower gardening, drawing, woodblock art, and calligraphy. Creativity was part of her everyday life.
With her husband Wynn and their two daughters Barbara and Lynne, Edna’s home-base was the Monterey Peninsula, just fifty miles west of the small farming community of Hollister where she was born in 1915. The Peninsula was a great center for photography as well as a wide spectrum of other arts. Ansel and Virginia Adams, Morley and Frances Baer, and several members of the Weston family were among Wynn’s and Edna’s circle of friends as well as poet Eric Barker, publisher and painter Emil White, writer Henry Miller, and sculptor Gordon Newell. It was a lively, generous community, sharing support, encouragement, and appreciation. Sitting in on their conversations must have been its own form of master class.
After Wynn passed away in 1975 and her children were grown and on their own paths, Edna wondered about her future. Healthy, and energetic, she knew she didn’t want to go back to teaching, and she surprised her family by deciding to pursue photography herself. With a darkroom full of supplies, one of Wynn’s cameras, and over thirty years of being the wife of Wynn’s, she felt she had nothing to lose by giving it a try. Not knowing anything about the technical side of photography, she enrolled in Photography I at her local community college where the teacher, Henry Gilpin was astonished to see her as one of his students.
Once she started on this course, Edna, in her usual fashion, moved full speed ahead, going remarkably quickly from taking classes and workshops, to teaching them. Starting a whole new career at 61 meant there was no time to waste.
Every time she went into the darkroom, Edna wore one of the shirts she had made for Wynn, along with his favorite work belt. A source of comfort, it was also a ritual that she believed challenged her to do her best. Even though she had lived with one of the great photographers of the mid-twentieth century and had been surrounded by other photographic giants, Edna managed to find her own voice in her photographs. Peace, rhythm, humor, curiosity, and connection are all there in her images. Although her archive contains photographs of a wide range of subject matter, including landscapes, seascapes, flea markets, and portraits, she is perhaps best known for her nudes.
In these images, Edna portrays men as well as women comfortable in their own bodies and in tune with nature. She had a wonderful ability to develop respectful and creatively rich relationships with her models and this kind of collaboration produced a remarkable body of work.
Rfotofolio wishes to thank Barbara and Gene Bullock-Wilson for their time and support in sharing information and materials, as well as, their efforts in preserving the Bullock family photographic legacies. We also wish to thank the estate for giving us permission to make these photographs available on our site.
To learn more about the Edna Bullock, please visit Wynn Bullock Photography.