New York Photo Review
Volume 4 Issue 15 April 3 to 9, 2013

The Genetic Wars by Barbara Confino

Color Unfocussed
Bill Armstrong
Film Noir
Ed Barnas
Untitled (Film Noir #1433) by Bill Armstrong. Source:
Bill Armstrong, "Untitled (Film Noir #1433)"

Today blur is often the accidental product of a malfunctioning auto-focus system and quickly deleted, unless the photographer is attuned to serendipity. However, blur can also be a conscious choice to enhance abstraction by hiding details in the original scene. Over the last fifteen years Bill Armstrong has developed a technique to visualize and control blur in order to create abstract images that stand at the opposite end of the spectrum from “straight” photography. For this “Infinity” series, Armstrong appropriates existing images, manipulates them, and then creates collages that he photographed on film with the camera focus set to infinity. The extreme defocus creates lush fields of color, eliminating distracting edge details but offering varying levels of visual information. Some of the earlier portfolios in the series contain more visual detail (Renaissance portraits, Nayika) while others are more abstract (seascapes, blue spheres).

The current work on display at ClampArt riffs on a classic film noir cliché: when the main character is knocked out, the viewer is presented with a point-of-view shot full of blurry backlit outlines as the character’s consciousness is regained. While classic film noir was presented in a gritty, low-key black & white, the neo noir films of recent years have expanded the palette to color, sometimes muted, sometimes brash. And it is in sixteen color prints – untitled but numbered - that Armstrong presents us with the protagonist’s return to consciousness.

Film Noir #1435 by Bill Armstrong. Source:
Bill Armstrong, "Film Noir #1435" 2012

The compositions are all figurative – there is a clearly a person but who it is remains a mystery. The color scheme varies from images so low key as to appear almost monochromatic with figures merging into the background, to others with brightly colored figures that stand out. Composition is often slightly off-center, as in classic film noir, but the horizon is not as off-kilter as in many of the early films.

The amount of gross visual detail invites interpretation while the lack of minute visual detail ensures multiple readings. Image #1435 calls to my mind a groggy hotel-room awakening with lights blinking outside the window - and #1407 can be read to suggest a blackmail scenario. Is the figure in #1436 walking to or away from the viewer? Do the patches of yellow and blue indicate a seashore? In these abstractions Armstrong creates visual puzzles for the viewer to ponder far more interesting than a Rorschach inkblot.

Bill Armstrong
Film Noir

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Thursday, February 21 to
Saturday, April 6, 2013
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Making Caribbean Dance by Susanna Sloat