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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Picture to Picture: An Oral History with Photographer-Teacher Norman Locks


161 pages, 2018

Photographer Norman Locks was born in San Jose, California in 1947, but grew up primarily in San Francisco. His father, Seymour Locks, was a well-known abstract painter and assemblage sculptor who taught at San Francisco State University for thirty-seven years. The San Francisco art scene [Beatnik, Abstract Expressionism, and Bay Area Figurative] shaped Norman’s early life. These synchronicities of history placed Norman Locks in the Bay Area just as the West Coast Photography scene was blossoming. As a teenager, he took summer session courses at San Francisco State from Jack Welpott, who was drawn to California by the work of Edward Weston. When he was eighteen years old, he met Monterey photographer Wynn Bullock at a lecture at the San Francisco Art Institute. Bullock invited Norman to visit his home in Monterey and show him his photographs. During those years, Locks’ parents also took him camping in the Sierra Nevada and to other favorite locations in the coastal ranges of California, awakening in Norman a deep and lifelong love for the landscapes of his home state. 

Norman studied at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he earned a BFA in photography, and then attended graduate school at San Francisco State, where he earned his MA. His career as a photography teacher began early, as he taught art classes for the De Young Museum as a teenager, and then summer session courses and then graduate courses at San Francisco State together with Jack Welpott. After graduating from the San Francisco Art Institute, Locks was hired to direct the Ansel Adams Workshops in Yosemite Valley and Carmel, California. There he coordinated eleven to fifteen workshops a year, bringing in luminary photographers such as Imogen Cunningham, Robert Heinecken, Judy Dater, Minor White, and Linda Connor, as well as then-emerging photographers such as Jerry Uelsmann and Lewis Baltz.

In 1978, Locks came to UC Santa Cruz at a time when there were only four FTE’s in photography in the entire University of California system. He was hired by College Five Provost Pavel Machotka to teach six photography courses a year for aesthetic studies, an innovative interdisciplinary major affiliated with College Five [now Porter College] that wove together the study of the psychology of creativity, art history, art criticism, philosophy and the hands-on mastery of the art of creative writing, film, photography, sculpture, and other modalities.  Locks also managed the darkroom for aesthetic studies.

In 1980, aesthetic studies was disbanded as part of Chancellor Robert Sinsheimer’s reorganization of the college system, which eliminated most of UC Santa Cruz’s college-based majors. At that point, Locks was hired as a lecturer in the art department. He struggled with the marginal position of a lecturer until 1990, when he was promoted to a tenure-track position in the art department. Locks chaired UC Santa Cruz’s art department twice. The final section of this oral history focuses on key developments in the art department’s history over the past several decades, covering hirings, the expansion of physical facilities, and the founding of new academic pathways within the curriculum, such as the digital arts and media program.



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