“Film Noir” revisits the themes of the classic black-and-white films of the 1940s and 50s—but with the lush, saturated colors that are central to my work. The solitary figures in my images contemplate the unknown, a reference to the ethical and philosophical dilemmas laid bare in those stories. While the traditional film noir hero’s “code of honor” is clear, my images remain blurred and unresolved, hinting at the escalating uncertainties of the contemporary viewpoint.

I made “Film Noir” using my unique process of collaging appropriated images, then re-photographing them out of focus with the lens set to infinity. The images are taken from a variety of sources: advertising, stock material, iconic street photographs and landscape painting. An astute observer might recognize a figure from Winogrand or Cartier-Bresson, for example, or a background from a Hudson River School landscape.

As I subvert the photographic norm—shooting up close with a setting normally reserved for distance and detail—the edges within the collages disappear: the blurred photographs appear to be seamless, integrated images. This sleight of hand allows me to conjure a mysterious trompe l’oeil world that hovers at the edge of the real and the fantastic. I’m intrigued by the nature of visual perception: how the eye continually tries to resolve these images, but is unable to do so, and the unsettling feeling that results. 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—the moment the psyche is momentarily derailed—is what frees us and allows us to respond emotionally.

“Film Noir” exists in 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 freed from the restraints of conventional photography, a world that might exist in memory, in dreams, or, perhaps, in a parallel universe yet unvisited.

—Bill Armstrong