Bob Black / From the Series, “When The Sky Was Colors”

Posted December 10, 2011

Bob Black lives in Toronto, Ontario.

“Life is missing things, not getting them.”
—Padgett Powell

Photographs are but a trace, a small breath of not only all that we have seen and heard and felt but of all that which shuttled and shifted before and around us. And yet, what else are we if not some divested trace. And do not the traces around us, apart and a part of us, constitute the base and rafters of our lives, of ourselves? Are the traces less substantial merely because they are residual? Do they not reside and provide long after, long after us?

The photograph. Like all memories, an imperfect one. When I look at this picture, I see all its imperfections: the scratches on the negative, the asymmetric framing, the cloven windows, the imblance of the sides, the lact of voluminous space in the frame to situate the house with the background and sky. And yet, for me, it still conjures what I cannot pitch back: a day left behind yet still humming inside. Here is a boy playing on the tin roof of his family’s dacha in a small village outside of Moscow, Russia. A trace of that remembered day. I remember the wind. The wind was strong that afternoon, so strong that it carried a tattered tennis ball, after being struck, past his fathers outstretched arms and onto the roof. I am that father and this boy is my son. As the ball flew, he soaring over the yard and up te planking of the cottage’s wooden stairs, a small rattling like a slow cabbose unhitching. At the moment this picture happed, he had just crawled through the top-story curtained window, laughing and calling my name so as to catch the wayward ball he as just tossed, I turned and caught the pivot of his arm.  In that moment, I reached down and picked up my old camera. The ball when fast hard into the wind, the sound of his laughter. At that moment, I photographed him hoping to snag his smile and the whim of his arm’s stretch.  But that was lost to the film, life’s velocity. Instead, something else came forward. The trace of the ball and the arc of his lean body.

What I have always liked best about the photograph is the stiffness and silence of his body (something that rarely happens in his ife) and the trajectory of the ball’s trace:  as if a kite string or an umbilical cord. It was the spinning hum of the ball through the long exposure that yielded the sound of what I miss most when watching him grow up. He shall, one day and sooner than that, leave me behind. Yet of all the pictures I took during that afternoon, and during that summer, this one reminded me of something that all parents fathom: the movement and grace of their children and their swiveling, turning away from us. Not my favorite photograph by a long stretch but one of the ones that has always reminded me of a simpler fact, something that most of the time my overly-thought out and composed photographs do not capture.

The tennis ball: a trace. As he leans against the wind and the gravity of the ground, our life together becomes a trace. He is above me leaping away and I below remembering and hoping to hold onto something I know shall now come forward in either my life or a roll of film. He no longer the child that I watched and nurtured or even tried to grow. A life a part of and apart from my own.  His life, his smile, his wilding days which have lent more joy and more mercy to my own hobbled life than I could ever express in a crucible of light and shadow and film.  He has left more than a trace: he has built my life with joy and reckoning and love and tossed tennis balls.

Traceable in the outlines of my body.


Author’s Note: This photograph was first published in the book “The Mercy Project/Inochi”, created and curated by James Whitlow Delano, produced by Nishiyama Syunichi and published by Mado-sha publishing. The book was published in 2010. For more information about “The Mercy Project/Inochi”, please go to the project’s website: The Mercy Project/Inochi. A copy of the book “The Mercy Project/Inochi” can be purchased at Photo Eye.


Biography: Bob Black was born in San Diego, California.  Since, he has lived a peripatetic life, including living in Taipei as a child, and now resides in Toronto, Canada. He is married to the artist Marina Black and they have a son, Dima. Of his photography, he has written:

Inside the accordion flaps which is my photography, I have tried to capture with the blind basket of my eyes, those things which pass around, through and inside me, corporal or fleeting: bereft breathing. There is no truth in photography but in the sovereignty of the inner landscape of our life’s reckoning selves. We wane. We expand. We seed. We hunger. We are blind. What else can we do? We do not resist.

Light awakens in a room,
A small ache stirs—
A child’s tooth,
Drops.

His work, both photographic and literary, has been published internationally and his photographs have been exhibited in North America, Europe, Asia and Australia.