The Mandala photographs are loosely based on Buddhist paintings known as mandalas. Mandalas are concentric circles of images that depict central themes in Buddhism, such as the Wheel of Life or the Map of the Cosmos. Through abstraction, simplification and blur, I hope to create a context for the exploration of these broad spiritual themes that, rather than relying on a codified system, remains open and invites the viewer’s personal interpretation.
Like the other portfolios in the Infinity series, the Mandalas are made from collages that have been photographed with the camera’s focusing ring set on infinity. Extreme defocusing allows me to create rhapsodies of color that change as one gazes into them: they pulsate as if alive. This sense of “being” within the inanimate invites an inquiry into the idea of the interconnectedness of all things.
Whether seen as celestial spheres, imaginary objects, or microscopic details, the Mandalas are meant to be meditative pieces–glimpses into a space of pure color, beyond our focus, beyond our ken. Their essential purpose is to create a sense of transcendence, of radiance, of pure joy!
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.
The Infinity series is an extensive body of work that I have been photographing since 1997. It includes a wide range of portfolios, from figurative to abstract, that are made using my unique process of photographing found images extremely out of focus with the camera’s focusing ring set at infinity.
My unique process of appropriating images and subjecting them to a series of manipulations—photocopying, cutting, painting, re-photographing—transforms the originals and gives them a new meaning in a new context. Extreme blurring makes the edges within the collages disappear, so the photographs appear to be seamless, integrated images. This sleight of hand allows me to conjure a mysterious tromp l’oeil world that hovers between the real and the fantastic. It is a world just beyond our grasp, where place may be suggested, but is never defined, and where the identity of the amorphous figures remains in question. It is a world that might exist in memory, in dreams, or, perhaps, in a parallel universe yet unvisited.
The nature of visual perception intrigues me: how the eye continually tries to resolve these images, but is unable to do so, and how that is unsettling. And I am drawn to the idea that we can believe something is real, while at the same time knowing it is illusory; that the experience of visual confusion, when the psyche is momentarily derailed, is what frees us to respond emotionally.
At the same time, the subject of these collages is color. Extreme de-focusing enables me to blend and distill hues, creating rhapsodies of color that are meditative pieces—glimpses into a space of pure color, beyond our focus, beyond our ken.
Nominated by David Acton, Curator of Photography, Snite Museum of Art
Visit Bill’s website to see more of his work. billarmstrongphotography.com