bob black – loomings upon an horizon

Hover over the image for navigation and full screen controls

Bob Black

Loomings Upon An Horizon

play this essay


Author’s Preface:

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.



Related links

Bob Black


“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


“And I

am the bodiless

The spectre

The comma nestled between the verbs”

–Ying Ang




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.


–bob black


Author’s note:


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.


166 Responses to “bob black – loomings upon an horizon”

  • I love the super blurry – grainy pics 8,9,15 etc and the pics that look like an Xray gone wrong. Exactly the sort of thing I don’t normally like but somehow Bob manages to make it sing.

  • Congratulations Bob, you do this so well. I love this stream of consciousness genre of photography: I like to look at it and I like to take it. It’s refreshing not to overthink things sometimes.

    My favourites are 1,4,14,28,48,53 and 58 – with 1,28 and 48 heading the list. These have the more recognizable subject matter but some others would look good printed big and hung on a wall. Didn’t like the tape over photos as I always want to see the photos. Haven’t read the text, visual rules for me.

    Inspiring! Running to shoot,


  • One of the very few reasons I ever log onto to Facebook is to see Bob’s latest book and photography inspirations, he’s always got something interesting and inspiring to share with his friends. I love this essay, I first saw it last year and it really shook me awake. The problem is, it always provokes within me a need to hang up my camera and give up forever everything photographic. I’d love to feel so free as to express myself with such violent abandon. I’d love to see them in real life, I can imagine as huge prints strewn untidly all over a table in Bob’s garden with all us Burnians sitting round having a few beers. For me the images go far beyond the medium of photography, they remind me of paintings, songs, beautiful guitar solos, love, shouting out loud, dancing, nights with big fat full moons and being free and without any creative restraints. I’m sure I will later come back to look at the essay and comment a bit more, but the sun is going down and I want to seize some life with my camera before dark spreads round here…

  • Bob has a strong SIGNATURE …
    Authorship … And that’s why Bob inspires..
    And that’s why I second Mike R above..
    Makes me wanna go out and shoot and if “somebody” can “do that” to me and inspire me?
    Ahhh, that’s what I call : a Friend and great artist =
    Bob Black!!!

  • ALL:

    As some of you may know, i dont have yet internet at home, (typing this at the library near my apt), but i will do my best to answer all questions and comments…as I’ve said a billion times, what matters to me the most is conversation (even in argument) about the living of our lives, and the chatter that builds the foundation of our lives :)))….so, please feel free to ask or say anything you wish (positive or critical, its all good to me, really)….a quick note about some technical aspects, this project was shot with a bunch of cameras and thus much of the difference in appearance: an old rangefinder, an old slr, a holga, a diana, and a Lomo LCA….film trix…if you want to know about the development of the film or why some pics look like xrays gone wrong (i love this discription) I can chat about that too :)))….

    above all, i want to thank David at the top for his faith and patience and support. it’s meant alot to me, as a person, especially in the past year of life changes. big thanks to Eva and Diego for managing to reel this behemoth in with such kindness and patience. and i want to thank Ying Ang for her poetry and inspiration….

  • HARRY: :))

    Thanks so much. i really appreciate that. I totally love your ‘an xray gone wrong’. it’s actually truer in spirit and more poetic than I originally thought. much of the grain comes from the use of TRI-x and when i develop my films I overdevelop them and push them to dissolution…often times when i scan the negatives or the prints, this results in the weird pixelization because the computer has a hard time of making sense of the intense grain. this is even more true with the super long exposed images or images shot with a pin-hole camera (there are several in this series)…believe it or not there are real people and objects in those, but i was hoping for a kind of visual cacophony, to test how much we can NOT see something and still SEE it…its all related to my blindness, which i’ll talk about later…my eye disease, and what it did to me as a child, lay at the heart of both how i see and how i wish to use photography….a kind of wrestling with the devil…to harness this thing that hurt me profoundly as a child and to turn it, i hope, into joy and celebration…to wrest sight from that which creates unseeing….


    thanks so much. i appreciate it. :))…As for the tape, that part of the series/book, some love, some hate. actually, there’s a reason for that, which well, maybe i’ll chat about later. It has everything to do with the idea of palimpsests…and stitching back together a life that cracked and hurt…and when someone sees the stitching, scars, for me, it always seems even more tender, more alive, more human…plus, i love (when you see the book in real life) the texture of the black electrical tape…before photography, i was a painter, and i’m always trying to think how can i add that PHYSICALITY to photographs (thus my love of grain)…..i miss alot the physical act of painting and drawing and making objects, so i always approach photography in a physical way…i shoot the same, more with my body than i do my head or eye…and when i print pictures, there has to be that element…photography seems to begin with an intellectual idea, but in the end, when photography feels right to me, it is all about the body, all about the physicality of the moment, of people, of places…as David always reminds his students and others: to be in the moment, the zone…and that’s a physcial thing…like language…like fucking…like walking, like dancing…thus the tape: trying to add a physical dimension to my pictures…to touch the photogrpah…to fuck it…to lick it…to put it back together…etc….thanks so much for your thoughts…


    thanks so much amigo. i cant think of a more lovely thing to do than sit around with wine/beer and chat…we dont have to look at the prints ;)))..come visit whenever you want, there is always a couch and plenty of wine awaiting anyone who wants….as for shooting; yes, please go out into the world and make your life shine….

    PANOS :)))…man, you do not know how much your friendship has helped me this past year…more than i could express and share publically…but you must know how your own madness and delerium has been an anchor for me in times of falling….what as can i say brother…will say to you in person, later this year :)))))…

    anyway…i must run…will answer more tomorrow :)))

  • Bob; I’m in the same boat as Paul, but he said it way more eloquently than I could ever dream of. Your work (“Bones of Time” seen on Burn) was one of the first pieces to showed me that photography had an entirely different sort of picture beside the photo library stuff that I was shooting… So thanks for that.

    And also; a big thanks for all the encouragement you have given me throughout the last couple of years; it has truly made a difference. But most of all it is wonderful to see your images and words here! :-)

  • Bob you images shake things up for me in a great way. I always enjoy your the journey into your words and photography.

  • I am in agreement with Paul. Toronto has you and so many other interesting photographers that if one dares to try and compare oneself it can be very disheartening. On the flip side it also means exposure to some pretty awesome local photographers and their work.

    Pure emotion Bob. Only you. : )

  • Great explanation Bob, thanks.


  • Bob, I don’t comment much here. But could not hold back. This series is special. It affected me enough to take a walk in the woods. Alone. For the first time since my beloved dog died 3 weeks ago. And I absorbed my loneliness. Rather, I transcended my loneliness. Temporarily at least. Yes, these images have a certain dreamy weightlessness to them. No gravity for me today. Floating. Thank you.

  • This is a level of thoughtfulness and creativity that is difficult to wrap my head around. I love it, don’t understand it, envy it, hate it. All of these things because it makes me think. It makes me think things I’m uncomfortable thinking. My own mortality, my insecurities, my limitations. But how can it not also drive me? It can and it does. Not to shoot like this. Not to be like Bob. But maybe to think more. Contemplate more. Consider more. Not just more, but better! Deeper. Pisses me off! (Haha) In a good way, I guess. Damn you, Bob. And thanks…

    …I think.

  • Bob I seem to remember you once mentioned number 48 was a photo you made in Andalucia. Am I right? It’s a beautiful landscape image, I can feel the Mediterranean heat roaring away, because heat does make a noise. Did you hear the ever present cicadas shrill and see the midday shadows like agitated brush strokes on a canvas? Yes of course you did…
    And you made me stop and love… Good art does that, reminds us to stop and live fully.

  • Congrats, BOB, excellent work and a wonderful ride! Thanks for that! Big hug, D.

  • BEautiful
    oh yes,
    grain is so sexy…..

    what Paul said:

    ‘they remind me of paintings, songs, beautiful guitar solos, love, shouting out loud, dancing, nights with big fat full moons and being free and without any creative restraints.’


  • Bob,

    About 4 years ago you left a comment on a project I had posted here on Burn. I remember waking up that morning, looking at my phone (and, apparently, my RSS feed) and seeing that my project had been posted on Burn. You were among the first to comment. It was really early, and I remember that comment you wrote caused me to jump out of bed and run over the Apple store in SoHo (as my home computer was not cooperating) to check the essay out. Your comment was what stuck with me from that whole experience–a lot of people derided the project and I was ill-equipped to respond in real time.

    I don’t spend too much time online these days. Mostly headlines, a slideshow here or there. But I do still have my RSS subscriptions intact and on the occasional Saturday night I’ll go through and see what’s posted.

    Thusly, I came across your link here on Burn and was really, really impressed. I find myself as of late drawn to this kind of photography (the more expressive/evocative rather than the indictment/didactic take). And I love what you say about how you don’t find yourself drawn to whether an image is “good” or “successful.” That is is for small-minded folks. This is exactly the kind of philosophy that I try to impart on my photography students.

    Thanks for the great work.
    Cary Conover

  • Hey Bob
    Thanks for putting these out there but I’m going to go against the grain (bad pun intended)
    and take a position of not really getting much from this series.
    Out of focus images have never really done anything for me and these don’t change that feeling.
    Perhaps the style is a byproduct of the eye issues you mention in one reply and is a reflection on
    how you see or present to us on how you see.

  • Bob…

    I would really appreciate hearing how you develop your film. Do you wet print or are all these digitally scanned negatives, or scanned prints?

  • I think it is an amazing piece of work, Bob.

    Paul and Michael Kircher express it much how I would like to be able to express it :)

    The way I am pleased and challenged with your pictures is very much appreciated. Well done!


  • Bob Black… For the inspiration, for the daring trick (aka talent) of choosing original roads, medium and streams to shape your voice, the views and statement to keep to yourself or to share of yourself (make sense? ) to create this wonder,that afliction, disorder, the weirdness on confrontation,the entanglement in some pace of life, the challenge of what art should be…for what I can put in words…thanks bob ! thank you very much

  • Interesting work. I like the long form and the mystery. A piece like this practically begs you to question what it’s all about. To ponder, if not solve, the mystery.

    The text does not help, at least not in any obvious way. Almost all the words serve to obfuscate rather than clarify. Whether that obfuscation is by design or some kind of psychological flight from the true nature of the work is an interesting question. Where does the craft end and the subconscious take over?

    For example, Bob writes “In this work,  I had hoped to describe just one simple thing:”

    Fair enough, but after the colon, rather than list one simple thing, he lists seven complex things. How do we interpret that? Bob is quite literate so presumably he is aware of what he did in that construction. Is he indulging in a bit of humor? Is he subtly telling us that there’s no such thing as “one simple thing?” Or is he setting himself up as an unreliable narrator? “Call me Ishmael,” so to speak?

    Wouldn’t it be nice if the author were somehow forced to sum up the meaning of a work in one short sentence or phrase? Yes, it would. Fortunately, that’s what titles do, eh?

    So let’s consider the title “Loomings Upon An Horizon.” Does that solve the mystery of what this piece is about, or at least point us in the right direction?

    My first thought, of course, was “where else would fucking loomings be?” They are, by definition, on, or slightly above, the horizon. No, actually, my first thought was “what’s a looming?” Truth be told, at that point I didn’t know that a looming was an abnormally large refraction that increases the apparent elevation of distant objects, making them appear closer, and sometimes allows an observer to see objects that are located below the horizon; nor that they are a common occurrence in the far north, like in Russia or Canada or the northern seas. I was also unaware that “Loomings” is the title of the first chapter of “Moby Dick.”

    Looking at Bob’s photos with that knowledge provides a different perspective. The objects he shows us on the horizon pose questions, or provide comment, on the nature of reality. The trees, the people, the distant buildings in the photographs are not real, they are refractions of reality, a reality that exists just beyond the horizon. The way the photos are processed — very abstract, indistinct — reinforces this theme. And they, along with the text, tell a story of the author’s search for that elusive reality.

    Although the underlying idea that photographs do not accurately capture reality, merely a refraction of a reality that exists always just beyond the horizon and can never be captured, is hardly an original thought. Nor is the idea that trying to capture them is a vain endeavor. You could even describe that theme as the great white whale of art. But art isn’t about portraying original thoughts. It’s about portraying deep thoughts in an original way. I think Bob succeeds at that. The “loomings” paradigm is deep, it’s original and it works. Now with that in mind, look at the photos again and see if you can’t find any deeper meaning in all those large white shapes on the horizon.

  • You are a beast, Bob Black. You and your loomings.

  • ALL:

    First of all, thanks so much for all the thoughtful and generous comments. I really appreciate them as well as the support. Actually, it is always a bit embarrassing as in truth (Nancy P can verify since she knows me in real life), I actually prefer to talk about others work and kind of ply away at my own in silence. Plus, much of my work is really a kind of excavation and a re-working of ghosts and moments and feelings and experiences that have defined me, story-telling as a kind of rumination and examination (not so much therapy as just a calling out, a rhyme to set the darkness ringing, as Seamus Heaney once described)….so, before i try and wade in here again, maybe a bit of a preference about how I see my own work, or rather, how I explore and the reasons that lay behind it.

    I want to start by quoting Hilary Mantel. In her novel about Thomas Cromwell and Henry VIII (Wolf Hall), she writes:

    ” It’s the living that turn and chase the dead. The long bones and skulls are tumbled from their shrouds, and words like stones thrust into their rattling mouths: we edit their writings, we rewrite their lies.”

    Mantel is talking about both the role of a novelist (historical as well) but something more fundament: how we excavate memory and turn falsehood (what we imagine folk were like, what we believe our experiences were, even though they’ve passed and our memory and truth-believing of them mostly failure-filled and discombobulated. I feel her description is about succinct as I can imagine of how I view photography in general and my own practice. The versimilitude and exactness of a photograph is a lie, for there is not factual truth in a picture, whether documentary or abstract, conceptual or instantaneous, its just a mirage, a reflection, a physical expression of a moment mediated by a box and chemistry (or mathematics, in the case of digial pics). I’ve never looked toward photography for ‘witnessing’ (even journalism) but as it as a means of story telling and expression. We’re all story-tellers, it is the only thing we really know how to do with our senses properly and it is what limns our lives and attempts to make sense of so much senselessness and wanting. A photograhy is chasing the dead, existentially and metaphorically, psychologically and temporarly, and that inhabits and motivates my own practice.

    I’m a pretty emotional and open person, and my work the same: expressionistic and confessional in a way, though obfuscated by lots of woody things (words, grain, doubt, feelings, ideas, concepts, etc) as a way to beat out the story and the thing I wanted or had hoped to express. 2 weeks ago, I just finished re-reading Agee’s Let Us Now Praise Famous Men, and what struck me this time was not only again the glorious (and quite difficult) prose (biblical) but the abstract and innovativeness of both the prose and the form of the book. But what really stuck in my gullet was its essentail lament. Agee seems at time to be castigating himself with the impossibility of his endeavor, of the challenge, to write about the lives of these tennant farmers and he howls at how impossible it is to incorporate everything he feels about them and their lives and the act of living to begin with, that he wishes to put every possible idea and experience into each sentence as the only way to make sense. I understood that. I once told a friend that the trouble with writing, or even the trouble with telling someone a story in real life is that in order to tell the REAL story, I’d have to begin with the beginning of my life, of anyone’s life, for all stories need that, river from that….otherwise, it just seems truncated. this is a frustration that i wrestle with in both my prose (poetry is easier for me in that sense) and my photographic works. How to express and tell what it is I want to say, show, offer…


    As for the ‘story’ or ‘meaning’ of Loomings, well that’s up to each viewer (meaning or just meaningless stuff, both reactions are legitimate and ones that I have felt myself toward the work) but there is a story here, or rather sever. I should begin by saying that each project I’ve ever created has some basic story, or idea, fusing its force: “and our memories brief as photos” was about reconciling one’s face with a reorientation toward culture, ‘bones of time’ was about my relationship with my son and my relationship as a child with my father, ‘oxen of the sun’ was about recovering my memories of taiwan and how it defined me increasingly as an adult, ‘loomings upon an horizon’ was about loss and finding meaning within something larger than ourself: land, sky, sea, death, family and the pursuit of reconciliation. There seems to me much more ‘white’ in Loomings than ‘black’ and in that sense, for me it is ‘uplifting’…the picture that begins it The woman standing by the shore with the mother and child in the background, gets mimic’d in the final image of the lone tree tree from Portugal (2nd last frame) and joins them (and me) together…

    the title came from the opening chapter of Moby Dick. At the time I was editing ‘Loomings’, I was reading Moby Dick and in a way its kind of a companion or rather a kind of inspiration in terms of what I was really searching for…..i dont wish to make too much of that, but there is a picture of a skull and one taken in a hurricane in florida and of course, all that ocean and family and well…….but to speak more specifically of what I was trying to show or tell, seems kind of silly or unfair…i’d rather have it open…my experience of the work and the shooting and the editing and its narrative is only one version. if it works at all, i hope it is open enough to allow for whatever the viewer wishes…

    it was shot in florida, ontario, nova scotia, new york, portugal, spain and russia and kind of is a humming of that….

    there is death in there, and i did lose some friends during its editing, but i hope above all it paints something simpler….that the act of meaning in my life comes from both the examination of what happens, of what is lost and gained, played out against something else:

    to just use a camera, the way i used to use a brush and the way i use a pencil or keyboard, to show how much and how rich life, in all its attendant experiences, gives breath to my life…

    it is in our blood….

  • …still digesting Bob’s horizons… but what about Tomer Ifrah piece on the Moscow Metro published just minutes before “Looming…” and with the comments section closed?

  • ROSS :))

    thank you so much for our love and support. thanks too so much for your words about ‘Bones’. All my work, in truth, has come from a very simple place and actually from a thought that’s never been terribly ambitious which is this: I just want to express with that extraordinary play of white and black and light and shadow how in awe I am of life and of the lives of the people around me. They’re my carbon and my oxygen and I never really wanted to photography anything except the life around me and if lucky to express an idea or two about what was happening in my life. I’ve always just wanted that. It’s totally narcissistic but well, what can i do. The people in my life and the places I’ve seen have fed me so much energy and inspiration, love and hurt, that I dont see anything else to do except to express that and those thoughts in a way that i hope makes sense, or rather, in a way that conveys what it is i’ve experience. And I’m incredibly proud of you and happy for the work you’ve done and continue to do. All we have is this one opportunity (ichi go ichi e) and that must define all. I’m waitng for my goat :)))

  • abele…

    I wondered the same. I wondered why they were put up at the same time? they each deserve their space.

  • ALL:

    ooops, I realized i dropped the main idea from my first long comment: what defines all the projects i make. Maybe this will be helpful in trying to see or feel what it is and the way i photograph. All of my projects deal with Blindness. I was born with a serious and congenital eye (rare) called Coats Disease. Without going into detail (there is google for that), it left me blind by the time I was 11 in my right eye. It defined who it is I have become and the way i see and view the world. As a child, especially as a teen, it was particularly traumatic. My eye use to drift (like sartre) and i could never look at the entirety of my face at one time. I looked like a monster (to me) or a drawing by Picasso (when he was in a particularly foul mood). What i mean by that is, even now, I am unable to see my face, or any other face, by looking straight. When looking at a face my left eye only sees 1/2 (the right side of who I am looking at) and in order for me to see the whole face, I must shift my eye to see the left side. What did this do? To me, looking in a mirror, as a teen, it became a horrific experience as I never felt i looked normal and couldnt see other’s face in a normal way (seeing 1/2). thus, i learned to look at small small detail in people’s faces in order to construct what they ‘looked’ like. Its one of the reasons i photography faces so much (especially in close up or abstract ways). I’m battling and trying to make the faces look beautiful, not beautiful in a conventional way but in the way i saw my own.

    Also, by the time i was 10, I’d lost my depth perception (this was at the time pretty sucky as I loved to play tennis and baseball and was quite good and then one day, i couldnt hit a tennis ball or a baseball coming at me). With time, i learned to see ‘depth’ but this I later learned was from the plasticity of the brain. The brain, and its plasticity, is a remarkable thing. I learned (reading Oliver Saks) the the brain will re-program itself from memory after time to see in depth, even with one eye. In my case, this took a number of years, but I eventually learned how to see depth using certain cues and other things I’m not totally aware of. Though, much to my lament, i’m still unable to see 3D movies (as a child, i was always upset that I couldnt read those 3D books given to children in school, with the red/blue glasses). Even with the relearning, i still see the world slightly different, slightly flatter, or rather, kind of geometrically. It’s hard to articulate this, but my photos rarely seem to have volume (because of the development) and that’s kind of how a see: not hierarchy of objects, but all a collision.

    but it is the emotion of blindness and the challenges it has posed in my life that lay at the heart of my photography. How can someone who was briefly blind as a kid, and still blind in one eye, make pictures. I can i show the feeling of blindness? How can I push the limits of a photograph to both show and expression, viscerally, what it means to be blind and how that sensorial loss is often made up by other heightened senses, including emotion. How can i make a picture show nothing (totally abstract) and still allow the viewer (me) to see something…

    that is what has driven all my work, or rather, is the underlying architecture of my work.

    and of course, Franz Kline, chinese calligraphy, poetry and ummmm….

    well, i guess that’s enough of that for now…

  • ANDREW :)))

    thanks so much. i really appreciate that. Time we drink next time i’m in nyc!

    PANOS :)

    Brother, you always make my heart spin, with laughter and joy! Love love the flics about Lola too!!! :))

    NANCY :))

    Thanks so much. That is what i love about you. In that sense, we’re totally alike. Like you, I’m one big emotional creature and what i love about talking with you is your fearlessness with accepting that and being unapologetic about that. All we have is that. It has always seemed to me that the folk who were the most brave, and the ones most important in my own life, were the ones unafraid to say something, even if messy. and yes, I feel really happy and blessed to be in Toronto with so many talented picture takers and more important so many just great and good and generous folk. T-dot rules

    MIKE :))

    thanks mike. I should tell you too as a kid, I used to always tape up my shoes and i love what it made it look like. maybe i’m giving away too many clues about my work, but its all there too. And I loved how Diebenkorn used tape to pull aways layers in his paintings, i’m just reversing the process…in stead of pulling away paint with tape, i’m pulling over images with the tape…masking, for sure, but i hope also allowing viewer to create what they think might be under those strips of black :)))…mysterys and fun….

    VIRGIL :)

    First of all, let me say that I’m sorry to hear about your dog. It must be a tremendous loss. I remember when my brother’s dog died and he actually had wanted to take his own life to accompany, because dogs are companions and also children, our children and anyone who has had a talk (and doesnt have their own kids) understands that. This essay, for sure, was defined by a lot of grief and sadness including the death of some people in my private life. And I didnt want to be maudlin but want to harness that hurt and loss and build toward something more sustaining. That our lives are defined by loss and death, the one truth, but that those deaths connect us to all things and all people (i guess the meditator in me) and that joining is what gives meaning. For the ‘why we are here’. A clock (or any mechanical machine) always has the exact number of parts it needs, not more not less. Life is kind of like that. We’re here because we’re its parts, and we’re connected to all the other fly spinning parts. my exhalation is your inhalation. losing a loved one is about as hard a job given to us as I can imagine, but it is also because of them and our presence that their going away means so much: it fills us with meaning and when we die, so to our own deaths for those after. a great big clock. and how that silence feeds us so much. If my pictures offered you a push to take a walk, I’m thrilled. Walking, about my favorite thing to do. And I’m so happy to have seen your Essay published here as well. So wonderful :) thanks amigo.

  • MICHAEL k :))

    hahahahahahahahahah….you know brother, I tell myself ‘damn you bob’ pretty fucking often, but mostly because I’m always fucking up with something: writing, pictures, friendships, teaching, words, photographs. Sometimes, I wish I could jsut do something right (on the bad days)…so, i’ll take your loving damnation :)))…means alot to me. Now get those pictures up on that cafe wall! hugs

    PAUL :)))

    yup, yup, yup! :)))…That pic was made in Andalusia! (there are actually several pics in this series from Andalusia)…and i love cicada’s…the louder the better…they’re stinging song always feels like childhood to me (from the south) and I remember when my son first heard Cicada’s (on a trip to South Carolina), he was as entranced as I was when a kid. I also associate Cicada’s buzz with movement and grass and wind through trees…and you know, best of all, i love the shells they leave behind…maybe those shells have been in more poems i’ve written than any other image…i miss them terribly…and thanks for the gorgeous Arvo Part…i love his music and ironically, I edited THIS version for BURN listening to some of Parts…how did you know? :)))

    DOMINIK :)))…THANKS so much…hope it was as fun as riding the waves in Central America on a long board :))

    WENDY :)))…THANKS so much…one day i’m going to steal your Vertical Comments…because every time i see them, my heart goes a tumble with music :)))

    CARY :)))

    of course I remember your essay and i remember you’d written me that as well and you know, what matters are not qualifications of good/bad in work (for me) jsut about making, the joy and the struggle and the grief and the satisfaction. I too often worry that so many, young and old, get so caught up in trying to make something ‘great’ or to compare their work, that they lose the essential joy of just working, of discovering, of being frustrated and then finding one’s own voice…i too always tell young photographers just follow your instinct, learn through failure and frustration but also celebrate the work you do, for if you dont no one else will and no one else will quite make the work you were born to make, just as your life and your voice. I remember that Pauline Kael once lamented that schools take out the sheer playfulness of making things…and that’s an apt observation…surely life isnt all joy and play, but if you give up the one thing that you were born to do (create, and every person was born into the need to pick up and create shit, to share stuff)….all that matters. so nice to see you here again :))

    MTOMALTY :))

    Hey, no worries at all. Like i said, all thoughts are good to me and welcome. and btw, keep the puns coming. you must be Montreal’s pun master! :))))…its ok that it doesnt make sense or doesnt work for you, i totally understand. Shit, sometimes it seems to me too abstract and too emotional and too much about pushing photography rather than just making pictures. Yes, my blindess has a great deal to do with how I shoot and why i make certain projects and how i develop film, how i chose to play with exposure and light source and all that. I know, pretty much, now wht a picture will look like given the light and the settings and the movement, etc…but there is still the mystery that happens when i have film developed and something goes wrong, or something goes right. it is that mystery to which i’m trying to celebrate and that defines my work. Its about how much can i destroy a picture, how much can i ‘manufacture’ sight from unseeing. And the grain is about, for me, the texture. as i said, i was a painter, and I need texture. Ifyou ever have to chance to see a print from Mario Giacomelli (one of my photogrpahic heros), you’ll see how much his prints have so much texture…like small drawings…and that is what i want my pictures to be like: rather, so that they feel physical…not intellectual, but the emotion that comes from contact with life and land and people…emotions of course come from the head, but they begin with the body and that’s i guess why my pics look the way they do…its not about ‘blurry’ but about something simpler: physical expression of experience….anyway, its totally cool if its not interesting. :))…i’m fine with that and really appreciate your honesty and frankness…and the pun :)

  • PAUL:

    first, i always use TRI-X (although, there may be 1 or 2 frames here when I used ILFORD Delta) and when I develop the negatives (some where developed by me in a kitchen or living room and then (because i didnt want to deal with chemicals anymore) and some where developed by Ed Burtynsky’s lab in Toronto). I always have the film pushed +3 or +4 on top of how i shoot, which can make the films sometimes insane, or jsut a mess. the negatives are really really dense (like thick mud) and sometimes hard to print. Some of the prints here are wet, some are from a dry darkroom, some of scans of actually pages from a book I made, some are scans of the negative. I’ve kind of incorporated all those various things: print, book page, negativ, copy of print, etc. A kind of collision of styles and original source material to coincide with the variety of pictures….i almost never print in darkroom anymore (i begin more interested in other forms for my negatives), but the original, older prints, still look so rich to me, that i’ve had a hard time forgetting them…most of my prints sit in a big tupperware box in my closet…scary actually ;)))

  • THOMAS :)))

    THANKS so much ;)))…well, i sort of wish i could make funnier pictures and someday want to do a project about humour…i’m much funnier (i hope) and less dark in real life…that’s what people who meet me always say, ‘youre way more fun in real life than your photographs lead me to believe’…i dont know if that’s a compliment, but i’ll take it :))))…

    ROBERTA :))

    where would BURN and most of us be without your inspiration and thoughtfulness and joyous love for life and photography. I know i’ve become a better person just corresponding with you and seeing you work your life-magic on DAH and Lance and Chris and the rest of the Folk around these parts :)))…a starburst of life, you are indeed :))

  • MW :))

    Mike, totally understand. So, let me get at the text first. As you know, generally, I hate artist’s statements. I dislike to read them (or rather most of them) and don’t like what most statements do (explain or justify work). As a writer and poet, words and language are a big part of my life and my photogrphic practice. When I write prose (or poetry) for a particularly photographic project, there is always a specific purpose. sometimes that prose is meant to join the pictures, or become poetic expressions of the pics themselves. Sometimes, in the case of Oxen of the Sun, it becomes a kind of narrative to join or dance with the pictures. In the case of Loomings, the text is trying to do what you guessed: cloud it, block it, obfuscate it, break it. I wrote most of the text after and your understanding of the text is, umm, exact ;)

    when i wrote about one simple thing, i was indeed kind of beginning like Ishmael. That one small thing is ‘death’ but one realizes (see my note about about Agee) that one small thing is actually comprised of myriad things, endless really, and their accumlation becomes that one big thing. the same way Moby Dick is, in one sense, about a whale chase, or chase for god, but ends up about a lot of other stuff…in fact, some of the parts of Moby Dick that i best love (and seemingly hated by most readers) are the digressions, the chapters on different kinds of whales, and knots and sailing vessels and all the diversions,,…and the ‘voice’ i was trying to write in was just that: a person who’d lost something and was chasing it and was being consummed by the multidude of words that seemed to be spilling….there is actually a poem that goes with the text, which I’ll leave here, it if will help.

    I’ll leave the poem tomorrow, as i’m at the library now…but that was the orignal ‘text’ and than i figure, no, let me write a piece that is both ‘explanation’ and ‘avoidance’…

    but, as you the title is what the piece (both the pictures and the writing) means…

    that thing that is on the horizon both waiting for us and coming toward us is both 1 thing…and, alas, many….:))))

  • Love the three dimensional feeling of the grain… congrats Bob!

  • MW ii:

    btw, thank you so much for the beautiful interpretation of Loomings (the project)…i wish I had been that articulate and as always I really love the depth with which you see and reflect upon projects. You’ve expressed, what I’ve attempted to say with Loomings…

    now, go back and re-read Moby Dick :))

  • WIND-UP :)))))

    hahahahahahahah….now, you’re sounding like my son after a couple of beers…big hugs

    thankjs so much :))

  • THODORIS :))

    thanks so much…and you know how much i dig those trees that invade the rooms of your island homes :))))

  • ABELE :))

    JUST saw the Metro piece now…will have a look :)))…thanks so much


    just looked at the Metro piece…would love to write something about that place and the pics too :))…Moscow metro has a special flavor and life unlike any other Metro system i’ve been on…i love the system (and not just all the architecure) but the trains and the people above all…maybe the author will open up comments later….

    anyway, i’ve probably said enough for one day ;))

  • Abele, Michael, Tomer Ifrah has asked for comments to be closed.

  • Bob, I knew that you had sight problems but your explanation is most illuminating: and most gracious.


  • Eva… I get that and respect Tomer’s wishes. I just feel even with closed comments both essays deserved a little space in between them. Could have put Bob’s up and let it marinate for a few days, have a good dialogue. Then put up Moscow Metro for a day or so… let folks take it in give the photographer some focused exposure (even without discussion). Then move on to next essay. Just a thought.

  • Bob, your camera’s out of focus again.

  • Bob, thank you for the open palm, and broken tumbelweed crucibles.


    first off, many thanks for the book…i cannot “digest” it until tuesday but i will take my time by the fire with your book…i hate to rush through books…very thoughtful of you amigo…sorry we missed in DC

    over the years i have many times published stories simultaneous…up to three at a time…my feeling here was that readers much prefer a story on top where they can comment….surely you know that few come in here on the front page anyway…rss feeds and FB is how people get here i think for the most part anyway….you are still thinking print…and me usually too!!

    proof that it does not matter: go look at Burn FB…..and right now overall, the Tomer Ifrah essay is receiving 35% more traffic than is Bob’s essay…

    BUT Bob’s essay is 135% longer than is Tomer’s essay….so it all evens out…or , err, Akaky take over , i am out of my league…:)

    cheers, david

  • Bob,

    Love it!

  • Bob,

    Thx for providing the background info.
    Certainly helps get a better grasp of what you were/ are working towards with the series.

    In the spirit of Loomings I processed a few files tonight applying a little ‘super grain’ though
    mine come out more as Gloomings :)

  • Somehow … in a very weird subconscious way , the above video reminds me of bob’s work

Leave a Reply

You must login to post a comment.