LOOMINGS UPON AN HORIZON
"There are some enterprises in which a careful disorderliness is the true method."
"It passes, but it does not pass away."--Laszlo Krasznahorkai
am the bodiless
The comma nestled between the verbs"
Picture this: a pollen of garlic light.
The horizon like a finger of wet chicory. The lift of language barriered 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.
We create that which invents us and name it home.
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. This 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 is long and it is conflicted.
It has been difficult to shape it into something seemingly coherent or cohesive for it has for the length of much of its creation meant more as a private rumination on the importance and solace of trees and land for me than as an actualized photographic story. In fact, even now, I view it more as drawings, sketches that have allowed me to continue with two larger bodies of work with which I have been obsessed.
What began as a kind of sketchbook, a cahier of sorts, to balance or blanche the two longer projects, Loomings has turned into a way to escape all those intense faces and rhymed-rackings that I was struggling with. 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.
I had hope to describe just one 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 undertop of my life. I wished to make a series of photographs not about what the land looked like but what it's power and nourishing and silence felt like. The size of its certainty large and small.
More than a year ago, I told David and Anton that I wanted to make an exclusive project for BURN. This is that promise. In the subsequent year after suggesting it to them, Loomings has undergone 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 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 stoke 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 is more inspired 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.
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 scarfing 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.
We are born of the land and we return to the land, our carapace and our undoing. Feed from that which is grown and harvest and killed and plucked to its breakdown into the chemistry and form which becomes us, we cradle all that around as the mechanics of our being and shuttling, until at the turn’s end, we decompose and ashen into the very chemistry that returns us to the ground around, only to begin again in the feeding of something and someone after. Feed on the dead, we are born of the dead only to give birth again to the living in our dying. A simple formula that sustains us, that churns our oversized selves into simpler markers: we are of those lost before and we become those who acquire life after. Detritus and Fertilizer both.
Wey are of the earth. Culled together from the detritus found around wood, steel, branch, cloth, log, wire, tincan, iron, light, language, slip of the time, tip of the tongue, we hold not just memory but essence of that which scatters and roots in its remaining: the land around. Our struggle with peace and oneness that drives all our shaping and construction, the bent unhinging and fractured coalescence, our cohesion and strength reminding even long after we depart. Things continue and, even in absence, nourish and create. Our simplicity and fragility and the making and arranging of things, not as supplantation but as extensions of the human effort to wrest from unimaginable unknowing to simple construction, our shadows and stips beautiful against the trunks of trees or suspended over the limb of a creek or within the crown of one particular tree within the land of one particular valley, scratched up from the yalping of one particular sea. Long after we have left the land, we do return to detritus and cast-aside ‘junk’ as fertile germination for another, to be re-found and reused again.
That cycle is a blessing. The refinement of love as an act of giving, rather than of taking.
In our rusty and unshapely beauty, amid the mossy time and construction, lay a simple truth:
It is not what you make in your life but of what you make your life
Fio de amor.
Loomings, an approximation of love even when in error.
And so, this series is dedicated to my father Robert A. Black and my dear friend Marc Davidson with light upon the horizon and reckoning.
All that surfeit of light and surrounding life that you have given me snapping above and through the geography of my life and its sound.
Though all things may vanish, they do not pass away.
BIO: Bob is a writer and photographer married to the artist Marina Black and father to the Blokus champion and all-round bon vivant Dima Black. Originally from the U.S., Bob is currently based in Toronto, though goes wherever his wife and son take him. He has exhibited and published his work in a variety of venues and publications; however, he is more interested in a good bottle of wine and long chat or slow walk than where those pictures and words end up. He wishes he were more handy around the house and aspires to win a Father-of-the-Year award more than anything photographic or literary. One of his essays, Bones of Time, was previously published by BURN. His door is always open to waywards and neighborhood cats.