by Katy Cowan
At first glance, it would be easy to mistake these soft images for pastel-coloured paintings. They are in fact photographs from a series by New York fine art photographer, Bill Armstrong. Entitled Partial Appearances, it's a "meditation on self, identity and the psychological state of in-betweenness that reflects the transitional nature of contemporary life", as the description reads.
"Appearances may or may not be real, and half-truths are often the best one can hope for," explains Bill, who has been shooting in colour for over 30 years. "Identity, itself, is in question as the shift from the real to the “cyber” leaves the individual in a state of flux. At the same time, once fixed ideas about gender have become fluid and open.
"Partial Appearances continues my investigation into re-purposing the basic tools of photography to transform found or appropriated images so as to subvert the documentary expectation of photography."
Bill's early work with found collages of torn posters (Accidental Portraits, Found Collages, Found Diptychs) used framing to transform images hidden in plain sight into illusionistic images. The Infinity series used blur, or negative depth of field, to create an ephemeral parallel universe. Unfixed relied on shutter speed to create fractured, distorted images by moving the camera during long exposures. His latest, Partial Appearances, explores the magical possibilities of the digital tool of layering to transform a combination of appropriated and made up images into what he calls "psychological fictions".
Bill adds: "With Partial Appearances, I have found a new method of creating imagery that furthers my interest in the contrast and harmony of colours while addressing many of the spiritual concerns of the Infinity series.
"On the simplest level, the use of layers is an apt metaphor for the increased number of layers that threaten to overwhelm the psyche, adding on more to the existing layers of anxiety, alienation, longing and isolation that can submerge contemporary individuals as they try to navigate a constantly shifting world.
"At the same time, the layers of different opacity represent different sides of the self and point to the spiritual dilemma of the individual’s struggle to become whole in an increasingly complex world."
Bill Armstrong is represented by ClampArt in New York and Hackelbury in London as well as numerous other galleries across the US and Europe. His work has been featured in The New York Times, New Yorker and Harper's. He is also on the faculty at the International Center of Photography and the School of Visual Arts.
Upcoming exhibitions include EX-Photo: Inside the Museums, a survey of nine photographers working in the Vatican Museums that will be shown at the Royal Palace in Milan in May, 2018. Discover more at billarmstrongphotography.com.