UNDER MONTEREY WHARF, 1969
Commentary by Barbara Bullock-Wilson
Monterey's Old Fisherman's Wharf is a noisy, odorous, colorful place. Ambling down the 750-foot long walkway, you can hear sea lions raucously barking under the pier; gulls squawking around returning trawlers; and hawkers wheedling customers into their restaurants.
The clean, salty tang of sea air is punctuated by fumes of diesel fuel from whale watching boats and traces of fried clams. Red, yellow, and blue buildings vie for your attention, along with displays of iridescent abalone shells, swirls of pink cotton candy, and brightly painted banners.
When I was a young girl in the late 1940s and early 50s, I would go down to the Wharf with my mother to buy freshly-steamed Dungeness crabs. In those days, there were several family-owned wholesale markets along the length of the Wharf, and it was always an adventure to watch Mom scout out - and occasionally haggle for - the best bargain in terms of quality and price. Once a deal was finalized and our crabs were being cracked, cleaned, and wrapped, I would wander around open ice-filled counters topped with gleaming whole fish caught that day in Monterey Bay.
After I was old enough to earn sufficient allowance to buy gifts for family and friends, the Wharf became a favorite shopping destination. The landmark pink Harbor House store at the beginning of the Wharf was a magnet for me, offering all sorts of enticing and affordable items. While Mom or Dad would run errands, I would happily browse up and down the aisles for an hour or two, picking out the perfect pin for Grandma or an exotic shell for my older sister Mimi.
Later, as a teenager, I frequently walked the two miles from our house to the Wharf to meet friends for lunch. Like Mom, my friends and I were choosy customers and we would scrutinize all the displayed menus before deciding which restaurant was most appealing to us that day. In the process, we would chat with the organ grinder, watch the saltwater taffy machine working its magic, savor tiny samples of shrimp cocktail, and check out boats plying the harbor.
As a commercial photographer in the 1950s, Dad documented Monterey's wharves and harbor for local magazines and tourist guides. Whenever he was there, whether on assignment or simply as a visitor, he enjoyed the lively bustle of the area, the picturesque setting, and the opportunities it afforded to people watch. It wasn't the people or the scenery, however, that he found compelling as an artist.
In his creative work, what was important to Dad was learning more about essence; being open and alert to whispers - glimmers - that invited him to journey beyond ordinary reality and probe more deeply the mysteries of life and the universe. It was this perpetual attitude of wonder and discernment that enabled him to make images such as Under Monterey Wharf, 1969.
That Dad could go to Old Fisherman's Wharf and end up with this image continues to amaze and inspire me. Below the hubbub that was so familiar to each of us, he went exploring and found himself in a world of pilings. Although the pilings were familiar, too, and Dad could have recorded them on film in a beautiful, but conventional way, he didn't. That day, under the wharf, he sensed other possibilities and he responded wholeheartedly to the invitation.
For me, Under Monterey Wharf is an eloquent evocation of light, darkness, space, time, form, and texture. It speaks of growth and decay, continuity and change, mystery and revelation. Viewing the image, I am encouraged to live more openly; to attend carefully to whispers emanating from the spirit of things; to joyfully and creatively embrace the journey that is mine to take.
Text © 2017 Barbara Bullock-Wilson. All rights reserved.