Jeff Wall is a Canadian photographer, but he’s also an interesting thinker.
In a way, photography is often pretty clear in its goals. Street photography to show a moment, “reality”, fashion, photo-journalism to witness the world’s events. That’s OK, but Wall wants to displace something.
Most of the time, photography about “spontaneity of looking” : you see a picture and you like it or not, you see a beautiful woman, or a funny face, or great colors. Social representations. Landscapes. People.
Jeff Wall wants something else, which is probably to make you think (about what?).
One example : “near documentary”. Something who seems very natural BUT which is in fact very staged and prepared.
Or else he chooses a picture from Manet, or Hokusai, and makes his own version in photography.
So as you know that, you watch his pictures and begin to think about what you see : what does that mean? Do I really feel there’s something wrong, or is it because I know this very “normal” picture is not genuine at all and needed a month to make?
In fact, you watch differently. You’re looking for clues. You’re looking for the reconstruction : where is it? Do you see it?
If a picture is directed, “made”, can it contains a documentary value?
The name of this picture? “Man with a rifle”.
- He mimics, but has no rifle.
- People around him doesn’t seem no notice him.
- Is his gesture a joke and he’ll stop in a second? Is there danger? What does this man want?
- What does the photographer want?
- There are other elements to notice : colors, or the shadow of the other tree who is not here, or the frame made by the cars (like “in stairs”) and the lines, making the moment like “in a slice”.
- When the photograph is showed, the size of the man is almost real size : you could almost walk into the picture.
- Why would a single slightly crazy moment like that is on a photo that size?
- It’s an action scene, but as you know the photographer and are aware of his work, you understand that these people are just like “stuck”, immobile for hours, maybe days.
- As it’s in a street, it’s colored “street photography”, and more : we all know that photography automatically gives a “sense of reality”.
- Enigmatic but “real”, the audience has to think about himself and his own look.
(More, in French, here : https://journals.openedition.org/cm/390#tocto1n1 )
Could you use this pattern, this state of mind in your Art? How would you express, explain and process it?
(I wonder myself why I love so much when one aspect of one artist is to make the public aware of the form he’s watching…)
Thanks for reading!