Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall

Born 1946
“I guess you could say I’m like a film director but my movies have only one frame.”

Triggered by an experience, book, painting or memory, Wall creates scenes from scratch, he finds his location, builds the props and sometimes uses actors and performers to complete the scene he wants to create. He began photography in the late 1960’s, photography with a difference, many of his works  re-create everyday moments he has witnessed, but did not photograph at the time.  ‘Something lingers in me until I have to remake it from memory to capture why it fascinates me.’ [1]. Wall can take months to plan and stage each of his “occurrences”.

wall 1

After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2000

Above is one of Wall’s most renowned images, I really like his overly detailed staged settings. His photographs are ambitious and make full use of present day photographic facilities. Their size and photographic quality – he uses light boxes and many are exhibited in big scale of around 1.5 m x 2 m, attract attention and offer a uniqueness.

a ventriloquist at a birthday party in october 1947

A ventriloquist at a birthday party October 1947

His scenes can be busy and colourful, providing the viewer with much to look at and decipher. I take my hat off to him for his amazing observational skills, let alone his memory! This approach enables the photographer to construct or reconstruct an image of choice, especially a missed opportunity to capture the moment in camera. It also allows for artistic licence!

the goat 1989

The Goat 1989

Wall’s style is quite abstract and deep, in a way these photographs are documentary with a dash of imagination. The image above depicts a scene that could be straight from the theatre stage or a scene from a musical, the garage being the backdrop. I am interested in the fact that Wall finds inspiration from something he sees happening, stores it in his mind and then, when he’s ready, reproduces it.

Wall’s comment that; “A motion picture film is really a long strip of material on which many photographs are printed ‘the images are projected at such a speed that we cannot perceive them properly and think we are looking at ‘moving pictures’. But we are, in fact, looking at a large number of still photographs, and looking at them in a very peculiar way.” [2] implies that his photographs can be likened to a paused movie scene. So although his images are constructed, his subjects appear to be taken straight from a scene from the stage or screen.

Wall’s photographs made me think about my photography and how I can introduce material and constructed ideas into a found scene. This way I can produce the finished article as I visualise it. In other words, if I can’t get the image I really want to portray, it can always be constructed. But I just don’t see it as photography. I looked again at Wall’s images while working on Assignment five, with my ‘constructed image’ hat on. Along with Crewdson and DiCorcia, for me their work is more of an installation, the work of a stage manager and team. Time and effort has most certainly gone into each image and who knows what influenced them at that time. I guess what’s important (if possible), is to understand the motivation that surrounds each image, or does the audience fill in the gaps?

1. [accessed 2nd October 2016].
2. Wall. J. (2009). The Complete Edition. Phaidon Press Ltd. London