Photographs: young tom
burn is an online feature for emerging photographers worldwide. burn is curated by magnum photographer david alan harvey.
Photographs: young tom
It has been more than a year and a half since I completed “Loomings Upon an Horizon” and I have not, until recently, looked at it since except to show it as part of an author’s talk and projection in January 2012.
I have set it adrift and moved on to another and maybe fuller project. It has been a somewhat painful and embarrassing experience looking at it again: akin to recalling a former messier and awkward self. But one abides and in that humour, smiles at the ungainly self one often is.
The above story is an edited version of the final book. I should say that I’ve never been interested in individual photographs, per se, but what pictures do in combination with others, including all the repetitions and motifs you’ll find here and in the longer version, the good with the bad, the confident with the cow-licked and dog-eared.
In my own projects, I rarely experience individual photographs as “good” or “successful” but instead as notes or syllables in the story or emotion I am trying to convey. With the exception of the final tree, I’ve never really liked any of the individual photographs but am instead interested in the noise they make together, notes in a musical score or the texture of brush strokes in a painting.
The original includes drawings and a few poems as well as pictures not included in the BURN version. A longer form of the picture sequence (without the drawings or poems) can be found at the link provided below.
Much of “Loomings” is comprised of a hand-made book (tape and all) but because of the length, it seems not only self-indulgent but, remedially speaking, unfair to ask readers to wade across its full, bloated body here. In this age of already prolonged exposure to the dimming flicker of the LCD squawk, spending too much time glued to the computer screen just feels plain wrong.
Allow your eyes a well-deserved rest away from the buzz of the clicks and hisses. Have a peek and then go out into the world and drift and survey and listen. Also, as for the long author’s text below, I can’t separate the pictures from the words nor the syllables from the tri-x grain. A family. Read it or not, do with it as you will. Brevity has never been one of my graces.
I would like to thank the photographer/writer Ling Ang for her openness in allowing me to quote from her poem for the project. It means a great deal to me, the words and the friendship.
Most importantly, I wish to offer my deep appreciation to David Alan Harvey and the editors at BURN for their gracious patience and humour in wrangling me into shape. Lasso’d without the rope burns.
“There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method.”—Herman Melville
“It passes, but it does not pass away.”–Laszlo Krasznahorkai
am the bodiless
The comma nestled between the verbs”
Picture this: pollen of garlic light.
The horizon like a finger of wet chicory. The lift of language barrier’d and ballasted by the curve of the land along the sea’s long liquid neck. There, stretching go we.
Swift the sound of scattering wings that clip the space between a window in front of you and the far-lost long-ago window through which you once pulley’d down the sky: a kite of birds and telephone line, eclipsing.
Stones gather beneath a fallow wall the way tab and tip and beer-caps drift as if dust into the knees of gutters and grassy corners. It is we not the place which is unkempt, is it not?
Bone and feather-less wing, knobby beak and elongated rib of our throat: all that is left of our singing when the song has gone wrong, all that is left when the singing has gone rung, wrong-by-wrong.
So there it is,
Life changes in the quick, a click of this and twitch of that until cut and tissued and forgotten like a careless nick. And all the spanning and the planning. Is it easier said than un-done?
And yet that spark, sparred in the instant, then and there, slipping forward-toward the something and then always (regardless) away.
The change in that unrecognizable mount the way breath fractures its step from the copper in-take of our concavity through the silent soft hum of an exhalation the way the curving land beneath our feet bumbles and joists and cantors without recognizable knowing the earth our death our thoughts the days dotted by our forward moving and if but we are still enough at times or tumbleweed-headlong-over-heels enough in our racing that moment that cardiac infraction a blip can catch us just long enough in its stilled web for us to more than know it but to see and feel and quarter it like geometry as recipe as the sound of her voice tango’d to the shadow on the wall an intact-tact and of that we need only to touch the transformed carving moment once to know it makes up the days and ways that make up the who of the what we are sung from.
Stick these moments together and exhale. Scatter these photographs each-from-each and turn aside. Have you caught up?
Sung at last and un-lunged.
We create that which invents us and name it home.
Do we not?
And though the world rises before us, we are its constructor. We stitch together from a tapestry of twig and feather the nest from our surroundings, kingfishers tucking at the muck and stain, the light and ligature, tucking the world into our beaks and carrying it over land and time until we’ve perched and begun to shape it into a loamy hull. These hull our refuge. And all the small crooks and knuckled branches, the memories and experiences, the quotidian and the quixotic churned and chewed into the clay that will shape the world we call home. Along with the detritus and deposits, an accumulated crew of observations gathered and held before us until it remains fast, the outline and scaffolding of “you.” The joinery a loom of trickled time shuttled back and fourth into an assembled shape, the finery a tapestry of earthy materials become a frock that we wear the days of our lives. We call this garment a village, city, nation, home, the turf from which we believe an understanding can emerge, our identity, our malleable, squeaky self. But we are more. We are inventors. Look around. Look around.
What then is this task, the task that we have each set for ourselves in our waking, that which has been described and spoken of as “identifying” and as “seeing”? The hum inside the organ of our being. And what is this thing called place and what is that which we imagine as knowing? Is it not a conjuring, an awakening to the alchemy of our own creation? How is it that we begin to make sense of our whereabouts, how to carve out a home, a patch of time and swatch of hobbled earth into which we can locate ourselves: between the pitch and pull of the earth? And how does one begin to carve, from the ripened world, a small pocket of safety and calm that defines the place from which you have come and into which you return when left mossy and shorn?
How does one begin to know of which and of what they are.
“Loomings Upon an Horizon” is long and it is conflicted.
Just as I am, conflicted. It has been more than a year since I completed ‘Loomings’ and I am a very different person now than I was when I had first set out to navigate some dreamed-up voyage that I had once hoped would set me free of the intense inwardness and abstraction of most of my work, set me free of the joinery of all those faces and voices I was compelled to ruminate upon and ruin with my unseeing and unsaying camera. I had wanted, in a word, to escape. To escape my own work and my self and the deluded self and thinking that I seemed reluctant to shear away. To escape not my life, mind you, nor my family (at the time the anchor holding firm the meaning and manner of my life), but the alphabet of what I had always photographed: people’s faces, people’s eyes, specific places in such a cloistered and claustrophobic manner that the work rarely seemed capable to speak of anything but only of ‘me.’ All those faces were my face, my blindness and my struggle. Take to the land and to the sea.
It has been difficult to shape ‘Loomings” into something seemingly coherent or cohesive for it has for the length of much of its creation meant more to me as a private rumination on the importance and solace of trees and land, meant more to me as a kind of self-examination (or rejection) of the kind of pictures I had already made, as a kind of catharsis or tackling than as an actualized photographic story. In fact, even now, especially now as I look at it again more than a year after I had even last looked at the pictures, the sequence, I see only its failures and sloppiness. I had always viewed the pictures more as drawings, sketches that allowed me to continue with two larger bodies of work with which I had been obsessed than as something brought to fruition. I say this not out of false humility but because it’s the way I feel about it. To photograph land without a metaphysic but with a desire to break my own photographic tics against the size and strength of the land and the sea.
What began as a kind of sketchbook, a cahier of sorts, to balance or blanche the two longer projects, “Loomings” turned into a way to escape all those intense faces and rhymed-racking that I was struggling with, including my own face, my own blindness and my own disappointments. Its gestation first began several years ago when working on a small body of work, private reflections on the great writer Antonio Lobo Antunes and Portugal, and now ends with that first photograph. A tree at night and its timbre in the wind.
In this work, I had hoped to describe just one simple thing: the small and intensive pockets of silence, the knocking of the wind’s cantor through a canopy of trees, the spray of the sea’s tumble, the notched scouring of the sky as the memory of my father’s face when he carried me as a child, the scent of green mountains verdant and tinctured by sea oil in Taiwan, the curve of a hill penumbra’d by the sun, land and sea as a hermitage that tented the under-top and undertow of my life. I wished to make a series of photographs not about what the land looked like but what its power and nourishing and silence felt like. The size of its certainty large and small. I realized that pictures could not accomplish what I had felt by doing simply, nothing.
More than two years ago, I had promised Magnum photographer and BURN Curator/Publisher David Alan Harvey that I wanted to make an exclusive project for BURN Magazine. At the time, I thought it would be much more interesting for photographer, a photographer, to try to make something with the magazine itself in mind. Well, for good or ill, this is that promise. In the subsequent year after suggesting it to them, “Loomings” underwent many changes and variations, in both concept and picture. What I had hoped at first to be made up solely of pictures without any people or reference to people, I quickly realized seemed frustratingly impersonal. As in life, I tend to wear my emotions on my photographic sleeves and instead grew to need to photograph not the relic of the land but what it felt like to struggle and to find succor and awe in both the land and the people in my life who shared those places in my life. No matter how we sheer and shore, no matter how we reconfigure the land and our lives to our own hungry need, the land observes and absorbs us and does not let go even in our forgetting. To work images from small abstract gestures, the stroke of black ink upon rice paper as a means to sing out the world, to write the letters of the lives around in small, cow-licked strokes.
In truth, “Loomings” is a kind of calligraphy. In fact, more than photography, it was inspired more by painting and drawing (ink and charcoal) than by the tradition of photography. At its heart, within my own heart, is the compass of Chinese scroll paintings and calligraphy. My childhood among the wind-fed verdant cities and hills of Taiwan or at least the place that sits inside the hermitage of my memories.
Strokes of words comprised of the shift of shade and vocabulary of light.
And seemingly with less and less time, I snug up longer and longer against the tree of doing little more than thinking or reading or just listening. Eyes open and drawn to that which scatters through me. This too, the doing of nothing but sitting, sometimes feels like a failure. Though it is to that failure that I am increasingly drawn. The heat-tug of time played out along our making of things and digesting of them. For in the end, “Loomings” really isn’t about anything. I have no grand design nor want to convey any large or significant meaning. If anything, I hope that it conveys my deep love of the earth around especially how light and shadow work their dance in the magic of the land. If anything, I hope that it conveys my deep love for photography and its remarkable and endless flexibility; its extraordinary generosity in allowing for us to seize and stretch it into whatever tale or notion we wish to tell. Although much of it is visually dark, I hope that others see this not as some kind of angst-ringing suffocation but rather about trying to confine my own photographic practice to some basic tools: a brush and ink with black and white, not for nostalgia or romance but for dietary reasons. What is the color of a letter? Letters, though seen in black most often, convey the color of surfacing around and do not need a wide palette to suggest the multifarious forms that abound. Light in the suggestion, color in the scarping hill beneath the palm of sky and cloud. The alchemy of this waking world.
Toward that finger-stain’d horizon each of us go, sprocket-after-sprocket, click by click, f-stop breath, as all things tumble into and at a time.
An approximation of love even when in error.
And too many words and too many pictures and too little time. Alas.
But even in the error, from the error really, comes a love more precise than its original approximation and that all I have learned from the leaving and the losing of things points toward something simple. Not photographs but the living underneath and entwined and enmeshed in the world makes for the singing, makes of the singing out to it, if even with these bewildering and imperfect gestures, essential for in that clinking and clanking I’ve learned to recognize the timbre and the clamor of my heart lit sloppy but undeniably a mess, but childishly hungry and bedazzled by unrest and ignition of our gravitational life.
Nothing more deep or artistic than that.
So be it.
All that surfeit of light and surrounding life giving and graving and snapping above and through the geography of life and its sound, inimical.
Though all things may vanish, they do not pass away.
I want to thank David Alan Harvey for his inimical generosity and patience for who but he and where but BURN could a photographer publish such a broken and long-winded series of pictures. Who but David would allow such looseness and such an ungainly and addled series. Too many pictures, too many words. For him and his sustaining belief, I am always grateful and filled by love. It goes without saying that the above text does not have to be read. It isn’t an explanation but instead a kind of sibling, the whiskey in the beer. Take it for what you wish.
And so, this series is dedicated to my father Robert A. Black, who taught me about the sea, my mother Margo Woodward, who taught me about the sway of a garden and to my dear friend Marc Davidson who taught about endurance and acceptance: with light upon the horizon and reckoning.
Bob is a writer and photographer currently based in Toronto. He has exhibited and published his writing and photographic work in a variety of publications and venues (yada yada yada) though he’s a bit fatigued by the taxonomy of all of that now. Instead, he is more interested in a good bottle of wine and long chat or slow walk than where those pictures and words have and will end up. Truthfully, he wishes he were handier around the house and still aspires to win a Father-of-the-Year award more than anything photographic or literary. He is currently trying to finish a Children’s Book for his son and is at work on a project that will contain a ridiculous number of pictures he’s too embarrassed to even mention. But that’s another story. Most importantly, his home is always open to wayward and neighborhood cats. Just paw at the door and come in.
three days ago i moved most of my belongings out of “the Kibbutz’, my New York home for the last four years….certainly one of THE buildings in NYC among the photography crowd and a few other crowds as well….more than a few iconic photographers live there , along with some internationally known artists of all types..jazz musicians, sculptors, painters, the like…the Kibbutz is an ugly building…..but it has high ceilings and lots of light and a rooftop to die for…nobody doesn’t like the view from my rooftop…the East River takes a hard left northern turn going up right at the point where the Kibbutz sits near the Williamsburg Bridge…so this small piece of geography is a unique vantage point in New York where you can look all the way down to Wall Street and all the way up to Harlem…yup, the whole island up and down, all in one glance…
the view from my loft is a view that normally only millionaires have in New York…yet i pay little, for the Kibbutz is an unimproved artists loft… there are many writers here on BURN who well know that i live a spartan existence…it is too late in my professional life now for me to make “big money”…for whatever reasons (divorce did not help), i have done everything in my power to avoid ever having too much cash…yet, i have never been out of work…but, i have consistently rejected some commercial work in favor of “doing my own thing”…and, i have not regretted this lifetime decision for one second….i would rather have the pictures than the money…as simple as that…time spent in producing books does not reap financial rewards, nor does all of the personal shooting i do…whatever magazine assignments i have done (40 stories for Natgeo alone), and even the best ad jobs, have all pretty much been tailored in the long run to whatever personal project i was doing at the time…simply put, i worked for the magazines, the magazines worked for me…
well, you may be asking, if this Kibbutz is so damn cool and you love it, why in hell would you move out??? answer: as many of you know, i found an old historic beach cottage down on the Carolina shore that is just, well, just just ME…i had sold my small apartment in Washington which i had owned for 20 yrs….sold it before the financial crises and bought the little beach cottage after the crises…so i was lucky, not smart…so now i own, by luck, my dream house…with the smells and feel of where i grew up and started making my first photographs…the sea, the sea, and the sea…so so sustaining for me my whole life… this house will always need repair….and the old kitchen will probably stay the old kitchen…but the fireplace draws well in winter and the wrap around porch lets you sit outside anytime, and away from wind, because there is always a leeward side…most importantly, this house is very near my two sons, a fathers dream… it fronts a 40,000 acre state park…nobody can ever build in front of me or in back of me…water to left, water to the right, dunes straight ahead…nobody can see me standing on my front porch, even though a tourist area is not far away in reality..yup, t-shirt shops etc are somewhere out there over the dune line…but, never mind, i am in my own little world…as usual…
creating “my own world” has been my lifelong pursuit…as a kid i played in the dunes not far from here and made prints in my humble darkroom and dreamed of using my camera as a tool for exploration and expression…i refused to let anything interfere with that original dream…it was too powerful a dream to deny….
so, here i am right back where i started…with the same damn dream…it will not go away even if i wanted it to…so yes yes a lot of hard work blah blah blah, but i sure feel just plain old lucky…so lucky that i feel compelled to share with others what i think are the ways to get lucky….to make photography a life, not just a means of technical recording…hence BURN….as i sit in my mostly broken down beach cottage right now, it totally amazes me that i am right this second communicating with so many of you…you are “out there” somewhere just over the dune line…you are not just in my imagination, you are very real…
communicating online was never a dream per se..how could it have been??…that just happened…and after all it is just a part of what i do anyway…BURN is some kind of reflection of my personal life, so it is actually a personal project of sorts, only with your work instead of mine, but it is somehow my work too…so, we are in this together…BURN is just simply what goes on in my loft at the Kibbutz all the time…official workshops yes, but general hang spot for photographers more often than not…as i said, one of THE photo spots in New York…many of you have experienced this first hand at various photo projections and events …and more than a few of you have even slept on my floor (ode to Koudelka)…
ok, back to the point…all my stuff is now out of the Kibbutz…i simply cannot afford to stay there any longer because my primary expense is now the beach house (by the way, the beach place will soon become a place for you to visit…a bit of a trip, but worth it…and i plan to have some limited photo events here as well). anyway, i have just enough money to keep the Kibbutz loft through May…it now sits largely empty…and as i was pulling away from the Kibbutz three days ago, i thought “damn i just cannot let this place go…it is just too too perfect for a NYC space…”
so, the van was packed and it just hit me just as Mike and Tony Skater and i turned on to the highway….my thoughts raced to the obvious…so obvious…..
i thought: why not turn the Kibbutz loft into a BURN gallery for the photographers here??…sell your prints from selected work….
figure out some fair percentage for both of us (galleries usually have a 50/50 split) so that when Tom Hyde sells his tumbleweed photograph for $1000. he keeps half, and BURN keeps half (or whatever we work out)…to pay for the gallery, the office, and Anton, therefore financing BURN and YOU with an infrastructure we already have in place…sell your self published books too…BURN would not be an agency, but BURN could be your agent…there is a difference…and nobody has anything to lose that i can imagine…IF you sell a print, you help yourself, you help Burn…maybe help me to finance shooting some more families for my long term Off For a Family Drive…i mean, i wanna play too!!
i am soon to be looking for major subsidies for BURN…not advertising…i am talking major support to be able to finance photographers work…the EPF is only the beginning…taking large amounts of funding with minimal strings attached is of course the goal…impossible?? not really…we do it at Magnum with some regularity…
as of last week , i have been charged with helping to develop an online “channel system” for Magnum…Magnet….BURN will become a Magnum channel via Magnet…other Magnum photographers may or may not have their own channel…Magnet can develop its own funding as a larger “brand” and/or BURN can secure its own funding or both… or, perhaps we become a “column” or “channel” on other major sites as well…we are in uncharted waters…this will keep us viable here and help to keep you growing and producing out there just over the dune line…
i will be announcing soonest the new Advisory Board for BURN…an “A” listing of folks respected in our business and who will draw sponsorship and/or donations….i will be announcing soonest the entire list of staff from our audience here…up until last week, i had Anton Kusters and yours truly doing everything…Bob Black has volunteered, at my request, to be Editor at Large (seeking new talent, writing special essays, and well, just being Bob Black)…Kerry Payne has worked hours and hours on a viable business plan (she does that professionally), and Chris Bradley, Creative Director at Ogilvy & Mather has volunteered his services outside of his agency, to study the whole “branding” bit…i am talking with several others of you who have expressed interest in helping us with BURN…you know who you are…
all of this sounds a bit daunting, but all of this will allow us to do exactly what we are doing only about 10 times better…right now we are “one dimensional”…i can see much more “depth” with each photographer whose work is presented on BURN….
i will not go into details of what we will do now, but believe me the possibilities are revolutionary…let’s face it, it is time for a revolution…throughout history whenever there has been confusion and floundering (which certainly describes our business/craft now) is exactly when something comes along and changes the “face” of everything…
the large publishing companies, with debilitating overheads, cannot move with stealth in this new economic environment…they have now to fire half their staffs…they have big buildings with big monthly expenses…at BURN we have my humble loft ….and we are in close touch with all of the same photographers that many magazines and agencies now cannot afford to hire…and they have to “over please” their readers so that they can attract a circulation which attracts advertising revenue….hmmmmm.…we could build, at a fraction of the cost, a better mousetrap…we have low overhead and a circulation that produces itself…
the audience is the action…
to point, we have YOU….the new breed…the new generation…the next bunch to rip it up…and WE are already gathered…we are not making stuff up here, i am telling you all of this already exists….hmmmmm, so put two and two together…timing, timing, and timing…and Chris Bradley’s concept of “co-opetition” is so true in the online community…we are not competing in the old fashioned sense of it….we will not take one dollar away from the established media companies…..we actually will help them…they will help us…funding is going to be shared by many….we just have to be in the game…
these are ideas anyone can have….so, why would it work for us?? because we already have totally in place a whole combination of things that nobody else has…but even if it does not work, what the hell?? nothing lost at all…forget one possible fear right off…my close attachment to all of you is germane to this whole issue….i ain’t going anywhere…and you know damn well i cannot get rich, because it would blow my whole image…survival sounds attractive however…
ok, well sorry, this was a way too long winded comment…but,i am in full thinking mode, so forgive please…and besides, the whole point of this is that i need your thoughts…but just on the ONE ISSUE, the gallery issue, for the moment…a BURN based gallery to sell your prints (curated shows…say, monthly events to do so)…i can hang 30-40 prints at a time…we can have print storage shelves etc etc…you provide the print or work out a deal with Mike to print for you (Mike has very long list of known photographers for whom he has been their primary gallery printer before he came to work with me)…
as with everything with BURN , we are a community with arbiter…just as in the submissions here for publication on BURN, the EPF (recipient to be announced at Look3) , etc etc. not everyone can participate in everything, but everyone sure as hell has a chance…do exemplary work , and you are “on it”…
again, just one more way to turn our online experience into a reality…