Jeff Wall

31st January 2020

Jeff Wall goes to great lengths to create what sometimes appear to be ‘documentary’ street scenes that reflect a telling human situation…

… In staged photography you’re telling a story, a fiction that may have a connection to something real or true however staged it is. All movies, plays and fictions, however far they depart from everyday reality, have a kernel of truth in them.

OCA Foundations in Photography Course Folder pg118-119

Below are a few of Wall’s photographs taken from the White Cube website, whitecube.com coupled with some quotes from the website.

Jeff Wall is renowned for large-format photographs with subject matter that ranges from mundane corners of the urban environment to elaborate tableaux that take on the scale and complexity of nineteenth-century history paintings. 

White Cube whitecube.com

I have chosen these works for their diversity in themes for the portraits. I didn’t think I would like his work when I read the OCAs introduction as I do not like staging photographs whether still life or portraiture. However, I will have to slap my wrist as these have so much to discover within them, even if the scene set is simple, for example the gentleman by the door or the man lifting weights. You look at these photographs and look for details, decipher and read a story. I have to admit I haven’t checked the images titles yet, I find sometimes this takes away the fun of trying to decipher the photographers/ artists intention and seeing what I come up with from my own experiences.

I have also noticed from looking at Wall’s work that his subject matters are different not only because of the settings but the content e.g. from the above images I personally would say – political, urban tales, family dynamics and relationships, sports, humour etc…

The images titles are, in order from top to bottom and left to right:

  • Listener 2015
  • A sudden gust of wind (after Hotusai) 1993Mask maker 2015
  • Mask maker 2015
  • Doorpusher 1984
  • Weightlifter 2015
  • After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999-2001
  • Mother of pearl 2016
  • Picture for women 1979

I have now read about Wall’s photography concept. In the White Cubes overview on Wall they write:

Wall calls his photographs, after Charles Baudelaire, ‘prose poems’, a description that emphasises how each picture should be experienced rather than used to illustrate a pre-determined idea or a specific narrative. His pictures may depict an instant and a scenario, but the before and after that moment are left completely unknown, allowing them to remain open to multiple interpretations. The prose poem format allows any truth claims of the photograph – the facts we expect from journalistic photography – to remain suspended, and Wall believes that in that suspension the viewer experiences pleasure.

White Cube whitecube.com

I like the concept behind staged photography, it is new to me, organising props, positions of bodies etc… but I suppose if I look at it from the point of view that I am a story teller it should make the process easier.


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