On the Tideline

     Beginning in the mid 19th-century, the coast of California has been a fertile environment for the creation of art and literature. The perennial conflict between land and sea stimulates the artist’s creative energies, who feels compelled to reconcile the opposing forces of wave and rock, instant and eternity. The dialectic between stone’s resilience and the sea’s transience offers an important discourse on our perception of time.

    In the case of Wynn Bullock’s five photographs, made between 1958 and 1968, water is the explicit content, while the subject of time is implied. This concern with time is doubly manifest in Bullock’s trio of “urban seascapes”, which feature the dilapidation of man-made structures along Cannery Row. While upholding the aesthetic tradition of modernism, Bullock used his art to convey ideas gathered from science and philosophy. Bullock’s long-exposure images of the ocean possess an almost unintentional beauty—beauty born of objectivity.

    In Edward Weston’s late images of weathered cliffs and contorted cypresses, represented by “North Dome, Pt Lobos, 1946”, the presence of the sea and its action over time is Weston’s implicit concern. Weston’s photographs of eroded rocks, represented here by two images from 1930, are natural extensions of his modernist cathexis on form—strange yet familiar forms etched into the canvas of rock by eternal processes.

    Morley Baer, who’s approach to photography largely mirrored Weston’s, made images of wave and stone to communicate the essence of place. Baer’s body of land- and seascape studies from the 1960s and '70s can be seen as a continuation of Weston’s growing affinity for spatial context, following his 1937 Guggenheim Fellowship.

    Pirkle Jones's work following the Second World War holds a similar appreciation for the ethos of California. While Baer subscribed more to the "inhumanism" of Robinson Jeffers, Jones saw people, their occupations and civilizations, as important components of the landscape. "Log and Golden Gate Bridge, 1952" epitomizes Jones's humanist sentiments, as the log's organic form is held in striking juxtaposition to the architectural behemoth behind it. The bridge is, from the camera's perspective, a continuation and completion of the rolling hills abutting it.

    Jones, Baer and Bullock help us understand the state of photography in the post-war era, and in the latter’s case, the transformations that led the medium to its conceptual basis in the 1970s. West Coast photography was founded on the principal of visual objectivity—sharp focus and unmanipulated images. This tradition is resumed in the search by Bullock, and many of his successors, for ideological objectivity, to ensure that reality is recorded faithfully. This exhibition, covering important work by four artists over a span of nearly 40 years, highlights a transformative period in the maturation of West Coast photography.