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A Closer Look -- White Noise

White Noise by Antonio Julio Duarte
I had no context to ground me in what I was looking at when I first opened White Noise -- my eyes didn't take in the four words that appear as a preface to the photographs. The first sequence of images deliver such profound disorientation that even though it quickly becomes clear that we are looking at interiors, everything is tinged with a sense of the unreal. The vacant spaces feel like the cold and impersonal interiors of a spaceship, some sort of eerie and ominous futuristic world where the shadows are inky black and every surface reflects a harsh white light. Large decorative objects seem oddly imposing, as if they hold some secret purpose beyond ornamentation. Weirdly decorated hallways terminate in blackness or lead to blind corners. It is world of seductive sparkle, but is also unsettling, vaguely threatening. Paging through the book, the experience becomes more and more dream-like. The images convey a sense of haziness or blurred vision, though all of the photographs are crisp. It is perhaps an effect of the shininess of the surfaces, as if one's eyes couldn't focus correctly with the reflection and glare. These spaces seem to trick the eye.
So here's what we are looking at: Casinos. These are the lobbies of casinos, specifically those in Macau, a former Portuguese colony on the Southern coast of China. It makes perfect sense; casinos are one of the few places where such frigid tacky opulence exists. Shot over the course of 10 years, it's no surprise that Antonio Julio Duarte was often suffering from jet lag when making these images, they have the bizarre surrealness of a fever-dream. Knowing the location does not disturb the overwhelming sense of uneasiness, Duarte shows no humans and provides little to no context within the images themselves and they become more compelling for their mystery, allowing the imagination to wander on a guided tour.
from White Noise
White Noise is both well edited and designed, the large black circle on the front cover evoking the most surreal image in the book and also reminds me of the black monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey. It is a skillfully evocative collection of images, a fantastic example of a body of work that draws the viewer right in and conveys a specific feeling throughout the well-crafted sequencing.

from White Noise
'White noise' is an interesting title for this book. It implies a hum, a buzz, a non-specific tone that can both fill the head or be ignored. My mind immediately went to the concept of "musical wallpaper;" as described by my spitfire music professor in college, music that was unobtrusive, decorative, and provide ambience without being virtuosic enough to call attention to itself. If sound can be described through decor, it seems that decor could be described as sounds, and surely white noise seems to be an appropriate description of these interiors. Perhaps through the suggestion of the title, or maybe through some synesthetic force, but the images imply sound. Though I'm unsure of its formal relation to Duarte's work, I stumbled upon an audio file that is intended to accompany the work. Its eerie dissonance seems to fit perfectly, and while it affirmed my feelings about the book, a sound track isn't necessary -- the images have ample ominous tone all on their own. -- Sarah Bradley

Selected as one of the Best Books of 2011 by Horacio Fern├índez

Purchase a copy here