California 1966-1972

My life changed dramatically after high school (which I nearly failed); I became interested in my education.  While attending the local two year college I was attracted to the visual arts and, in particular, photography.  There were some personal and educational ups and downs but eventually I found teachers and students that I connected with at San Francisco State. 

Around 1966 as a third year art student I produced (California #1) the image of my wife Nancy and myself.  Structurally this image was made with two consecutive 35mm negatives (and the influence of Ray K. Metzker).  The image was constructed in the camera by taking the top half first and then turning the camera around 180° and taking the lower half.  This was my first pre-planned image construction and since that image I have worked/played with various forms of image construction.  This aspect has possibly been the most consistent element in my work over the ensuing years, along with an exploration of the medium itself, as I moved from idea to idea.  

While a graduate student I became Imogen Cunningham's assistant when she taught a subject in photography at SF State.  She was in her late 80s, tiny, and tough.  She spoke clearly and sharply and demanded one's attention.  She wore a peace sign always and was outspoken against the Vietnam war.  Remarkably she was still earning her living as a portrait photographer and doing her own printing.  As a young woman, she had worked for Edward Curtis in Seattle processing his sheet-film and printing his photographs of American Indians.  Later in California, she became a member of the famous f64 Group which formed in 1932 and included Edward Weston and Ansel Adams.

As photography students in the SF Bay Area we lived with the actuality of famous artists in the history of photography.  Besides Weston, Cunningham, and Adams, some others were: Carleton Watkins, Eadweard Muybridge, Dorthea Lange, Brett Weston, and Wynn Bullock.  We students felt like we were the proverbial meat in the sandwich between these famous figures and the contemporary photography-art scene.

In 1967 Nathan Lyons curated the Persistence of Vision exhibition at the George Eastman House in New York.  This show include Jerry N Uelsmann's multiple negative, otherworldly, image constructions; the structural explorations of Ray K Metzker; the popular culture influenced, alternative process, work of Robert Heinecken; the painterly works, influence by the traditional visual art mediums of drawing, painting, printmaking, of Charles Gill and Donald Blumberg working in collaboration and the similarly influenced work of John Wood.  This was an important show and I explored the issues it raised in my MA thesis. 

The Persistence of Vision merely indicated the complexity of what was happening in the late 1960s in the US.  The influence of Surrealism was still strong and could be seen in the work of a number of artists using photography including Jerry Uelsmann, Ralph Gibson, Duane Michals, Lucas Samaras and Ralph Eugene Meatyard.  Photography was also being used by conceptual artists and sculptors like Ed Ruscha, Robert Cumming, and Bruce Nauman.

The established practices of the past and emerging new trends together with the turbulent cultural and political changes of the late 60s were particularly challenging.  My concern (then, as it is now) was to express the ideas I was working with by whatever means that felt appropriate.  Bob Dylan's changing ideas, changing sound (folk, rock, country) and changing voice was something I identified with.

After graduating with my Masters in Fine Art in 1969 I immediately got a job teaching photography back where I had begun my art studies.  Concurrently I became a founding member of the Visual Dialogue Foundation (VDF) which included two of my SF State teachers: Jack Welpott and Don Worth, a number of ex-students and others including: Michael Bishop, Linda Connor, Judy Dater, Oliver Gagliani, Michael Harris, Harvey Himelfarb, Timo Pajunen, Leland Rice, Steven Soltar, and John Spence Weir.  Having the support of the VDF group was a fortuitous way to transition from being a student, to teaching, and being an active artist.  I had my first solo show in 1970.

The VDF held group exhibitions and produced a portfolio which included a photograph from each member.  My portfolio image was the image listed as California #18.  The VDF portfolio was purchased by a number of major art museums and galleries in the US and Europe including the Museum of Modern Art, NY.

Around this time I met Gael, an Australian, and her two children, Rachel and Toby.  We began living together, north of San Francisco, in rural Inverness on Tomales Bay.  In 1971 and 1972 we travelled to Mexico and to France.  In February 1973 we moved to Australia. 

I have included two images (California #26 & #27) to acknowledge that life-changing move. The photographed box was one of three that contained our possessions which were shipped to Australia.  The last image is of our driveway which led to the right, and the local street, which led to a secondary rural highway, which led to the 101 Freeway and to San Francisco — the shipping lines and the international airport.