Bill probably doesn’t remember, but we first met in the late ‘90s at a party in someone’s posh Upper West Side apartment. I don't remember whom the party was for but I do remember feeling a bit lost; I had recently moved to New York City from a small town in upstate New York and I didn’t know anyone at the party other than David Lehman. Somehow Bill and I struck up a conversation. I knew who he was—David had told me about him—but I knew nothing other than that he was a gifted photographer. During the course of our conversation he described his “Portraits of the Collaborative Self” project and told me that he was about to embark on a cross-country trip to take photographs. The fruits of the trip and of many other encounters are included in Act 3.
Here’s how it works: Bill meets with his subject and over the course of a session, some lasting several hours, they talk. At a certain point they’ll detect an emotional spark—a subject, a feeling—that has weight and meaning. The subject will begin to “play,” creating a backdrop using the raw material of a white roll of paper, black paint and a paintbrush. Most of the photographs show the subject in a studio but others were taken in a field, or in a desolate urban center. All are black and white. Unlike Act 2, the subject is clear; there are no grainy background or distortions. The magic is in what the play has yielded. Here’s Willem Defoe before a deKooning-esque painting of a large breasted woman. A mournful firefighter holds a scroll on which he’s written a list of names. One assumes these are the brother-firefighters who died on September 11. Trevor Winkfied stands before a paper filled with glyph-like shapes. Many of the subjects are artists, others are unknown (to me). You wonder what got them to the moment that is captured in the photograph. They’re provocative, humorous, whimsical.
The image above is from subsection entitled “Seventeen Bedrooms: A Spaghetti Western,” a collaboration between Bill and the visual artist Joanne Boldinger. In each image, Boldinger stands before a painting of a bedroom. No two are alike. In some, the bed is the focal point, it others it is a mere slice, glimpsed behind a distant door. Is there a room more charged with emotion than the bedroom?