bob black – loomings upon an horizon

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Bob Black

Loomings Upon An Horizon

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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”

  • Bob thank you so very much for all your replies to my never ending stream of questions. It’s really been brilliant and highly inspiring to read. I’m sure I could find more questions for you :))) but I do realize you have a life outside your local library!!

    “Poetry is what happens when nothing else can”.
    Charles Bukowski

  • DQ..

    well i used ultimate correctly in referring to art the first time, and then awkwardly misused penultimate..thanks…fixed!!! i am always having my penultimate beer!!

  • I always wonder when a regular posters essay/work appears how much is a response to the person and how much is to the work itself

  • Imants, I suspect that being a regular poster will help you get your foot in the door, but if you don’t have the goods then being a regular poster isn’t going to get you published. Being Henry Fonda’s kid may have helped Jane get into show business, but if she couldn’t act then her career would have ended back in the early 1960’s.

  • Imants…

    I’m absolutely sure it’s 100% work and nothing to do with being a regular round here.


    we rarely publish commentators work here…in 2012 only only MW and Gladdy i think….and now Bob, and of course you several times in 2010,11…commentators are of course always welcomed, but few submit work….

    frankly , i think this crowd is pretty straightforward in their assessments of work regardless of source and i certainly choose based on the work..i would have no reason to do otherwise…

  • DAH wrote: “i am always having my penultimate beer!!”

    ha ha! cheers!

  • I guess the difference is that people are more informed about the poster of the work so there is a bit more of a personal refence.

  • Boba! Sto let.. Ochen’ zdorova!

  • DAVID, ALL :)))

    first of all thanks so much for that DAvid and everyone…and yes, I’ll be back to answer the rest of the comments…

    but for now, I want to shift focus and have everyone take a look at Lijie’s project and essay….she deserves the spot light now, please :)))…

    so, i’ll be back to answer, but just want her work not to get some of the attention

    with lots of love and hugs :))

  • Bob, finally get to see your latest offerings. OK, not in the best of places to view and take it all in, in a net cafe here in Thailand, between 2 kids playing warring Video Games with big and loud noises every time they hit the target or something… :-)

    Plus I do not think it is a project that we should have absolutely something to say about right there. You are more in the category of artists whose appreciation has not to come forcibly in a timely or scheduled manner, and for instant gratification kicks.

    Still, in your constant experimentation to probe and dance (especially dance!) around your own truth and self, you are nothing but inspiring for all of us to search those depth in ways we might not always be ready to undertake but that your own work dares us to have the courage to find.

    Hopefully, what David once wrote, that the best essays on BURN are the least commented, is not really the case.

    Thanks for being Bob Black, and thanks for being my friend.

  • ALL:

    FIRST of all, again, thanks so much! I will answer all comments, but will take a few days off so that others can concentrate on my friend Lijie’s remarkable and important essay. She deserves the spotlight now and I hope everyone takes the time to look at both The Innocent as well as all her work. :)))


    I’m so happy you’re enjoying your time in Hawaii. I could us a vacation myself and hopefully they’ll be alohoa pictures on your blog soonest ! :))…Welcome back!

    FEANARE! :)))

    Thank you so much for that. That’s so lovely and well, what else is the waking life for but to allow for the continuation of those dreamsongs that visit us along our lives :)))…the hope for more and for richer and more crazy as well! :))

    AKAKY! :)))…i hear ya, i hear ya…especially about the stale danish…

    PANOS! ;))…yea, or at least are thinking of something else, but are to hesitant to say ;))

    CIVI! :))…nice to see your beautifully excitable self back…feels like old times!…what a lovely return :)))

    GORDON I: ME TOO…me too!!!! :)))))

    GORDON II: :))…yes, i cant wait and will let you know when i come west…yes, i LOVE LOVE color too and love to look at color pictures and am making baby steps with color photography…for me though, graphic intensity is about b/w…color about abstract feelings and emotions…and, well…i guess i answered that color vs. b/w on saturday… :))

    DAVID :)))

    THANK YOU amigo for everything you’ve done here with Loomings and everything you do. That’s another great post and damn, you’ve been on a roll with great comments under loomings…something I hope that over time people will return to see what you’ve written…i agree in total….sharing as a way of setting the spark that burns the body and the head and the heart incandescent!…alive…hugs hugs :)))

    DQ :)))))…thanks so much amigo…indeed indeed..

    AKAKY: hahahahahahaah…well, never really loved Poud as a poet either (and read his entire Cantos)…and he was a traitor and antisemetic……but he was also mentally hill…shouldnt be hung…maybe only G.Bush II ;)))

    PAUL :)))…it has been my pleasure and a real joy…and I would keep going on and on…but time now to switch folk’s attention to a different artists work :)))

    IMANTS ;))…well, i believe that LOOMINGS was published because its decent work and I hope that people wrote alot here because they were interested and curious and they knew that I would answer all questions and comments and I hoped that this sparked a good and interesting dialog…it would have been interesting to hear from negative commentators (surely Jim or others must not have liked it) and i would have loved to engage in a discussion…but the series didnt (nor does it ever) work for everyone and so that’s all ok…i’ve really tried to give it my all to be there for everyone and to be open about my life and the work and the process of both the making and the thinking :)))…so, hopefully people responded to that not because I comment often at BURN but because the work warranted the interest and my responses helped people to feel comfortable to ask questions :)))))…be well…

    JULIA :))

    bolshoi bolshoi spasibo dorogoiya!!…bolshoi privet Davidka tozhe…and kiss to the little ones..:))))

    HERVE! :))))

    I thought you just won election to Thai Parliment?…or was that a rumor I heard from one of my friends in BKK? ;))…THANK YOU so much for Being herve and for being so generous and so sensitive with this work. Actually, about watching it in Thai cafe, when i first showed my son, i looked at it with his earphones on listening, i think, to hiphop ;))…andyway, i hope i get to see you this year when you return…i mean, you should be able to get some trip as a newly electred representative to visit Toronto on some cultural venture…I’m waiting for you herve…its been long enough :))…thanks so much for your wide and generous heart!..


  • a civilian-mass audience

    oi,BOBBY…I am always here…watching,following ‘YOUR VISION’…so many BURNIANS…
    you are ALL amazing…and I am not talking about “photography” …I am talking about your heart,your soul,your good energy and spirit …

    “And now here is my secret, a very simple secret; it is only with the heart that one can see rightly, what is essential is invisible to the eye.”

    Antoine de Saint-Exupery

    the Greek fighter

  • BOB,

    Been out of the loop for a bit but wow what great work. Two words dear to my heart says it all (for me) – negative space! ;) :)

    Big ups to you and the family,


  • CHARLES! :)))

    Hi CP! :))…hey, no worries…and yup yup yup…it’s all about the negative space :)))…as Lao Tzu reminds in Tao Te Ching: its the hole in the middle around which the wheel revolves :)))…same true in life…thanks so much for popping in…hope all is well with you, mrs. you and the little lion cubs! :))))

    big hugs

  • very happy to see it.


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