“Falling Through History” is a series of photographs that transforms falling figures appropriated from the history of western art, from ancient Greece to the present. My goal is to extract the figures from their historical moment and connect them in a continuous stream that transcends period, style, and subject matter to reveal the psychology of falling as a universal aspect of human consciousness.
Many of the images allude to grim subjects: the story of Icarus, the descent into hell, accidents, and suicides. One might say my preoccupation with falling reflects a sense that we live in dark times. Yet acrobats, divers, and dancers embrace falling as part of their practice. Poets speak of falling in love. The figures appear the same, in falls of terror or joy, whether they are plunging to their death or splashing into a lake. I’m interested in the tension created by that uncertainty and how it affects the viewer’s response.
Some of the photographs are long exposures that accentuate the motion of falling. Others are more still, capturing a moment frozen in time, a moment of levitation. People who have survived long falls rarely recount fear or panic, more often they describe a heightened awareness, an intense focus, or time slowing down. Some even describe feelings of elation. Perhaps the figures suspended in ether can therefore be seen as metaphors for transcendence, for spiritual grace, for a lightness of being. It’s a state that may only exist temporarily in the face of the inevitable—the transience of all experience—the fact that the ground is always rushing up, and the best one can hope for is a soft landing.
-Bill Armstrong, New York City, 2019