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Unspoken is a new portfolio in the Infinity series, an extensive body of work that I have been photographing since 1997, using my unique process of photographing collages of appropriated images extremely out of focus with the camera’s focusing ring set at infinity. Shooting close-up with the setting meant for distance subverts the documentary expectation of photography and turns the camera into a tool for visual distortion.

Like the earlier figurative images in the Infinity series, Unspoken, consists of tableaux that depict indistinct couples in amorphous spaces. However, instead of being together, the figures in Unspoken are often separated in the frame and looking away from each other, suggesting a disconnect or tension between them. As feature, expression and individuality are erased, body language and the visual cues of posture and gesture become the keys to creating the narrative. With individuality eliminated the figures become archetypes and their placement indicates that isolation may exist even when people are physically together. The blur acts as a metaphor for the ambiguity, frustration and lack of clarity so common in human relationships. Some of the images in Unspoken contain three figures. In these triads—a notoriously difficult configuration—the “third wheel” might be a voyeur, a cuckold or merely a lonely individual, jealous of the lovers’ intimacy.

Many of these images contain backgrounds that are appropriated from night photographs made by well-known photographers. These backgrounds often bring the dark sensibilities of the original image from which they came, even after being cut and reconfigured beyond recognition. Others have backgrounds taken from abstract color field painting that may convey the gestural feeling of the original. Extreme de-focusing blurs the edges within the collages, creating an integrated image that appears as if it was taken in the real world. This sleight of hand allows me to conjure a trompe l’oeil world that hovers between the real and the fantastic, where the contrast and harmony of color is the driving force behind a subliminal chromatic psychology. Unspoken reminds us that we can believe something is real, while at the same time knowing it is illusory; that the experience of visual confusion, when the mind is momentarily derailed, is what frees us to respond emotionally to the psychic play depicted. At the same time, I hope the inability to resolve these images compels the viewers to keep looking, mesmerized by the spaces of pure color, and allow themselves to drift into a meditative state.

Work by Bill Armstrong