Canadian artist Jeff Wall’s photography rejects the notion of the photograph as a witness, choosing instead to recreate elaborate, staged mise-en-scenes from memory. These are often events and situations that Wall has experienced over a long time period, as opposed to the instant, ‘in-the-moment’ nature of taking a single shot. He is most famous for his large, back-lit Cibachrome photographs (which have earned him criticisms for not being a ‘real’ photographer) yet his works certainly capture the immediacy and emotion of traditional photography. They provide Wall with the freedom to recreate, allowing the emotions and moods he saw to be reflected more thoughtfully and purposefully. This practice of re-creation is critical to how Wall’s pieces work, as it allows them stand apart from traditional photography.
This move away from the conventional is found in every aspect of Wall’s work. Mounting the photographs in lightboxes and enlarging them to a very large scale is all part of exaggerating the artificial process of the creation of his pieces. To further highlight this, Wall draws on a number of artists for compositional strategies, such as Edouard Manet and Diego Velazquez, and notably Katsushika Hosaki in his dramatic 1993 work A Sudden Gust of Wind (After Hosaki).
While it might appear that his works are loaded with social commentary or are observational, for Wall they are neither scathing political messages nor romanticised ‘pretty’ imagery. Rather he seeks to best represent the space in which these events are taking place, letting the viewer pick up on the emotional weight of the featured incident. This is especially clear in his more recent works, such as Listener (2015), which shows a shirtless man on his knees in the dirt surrounded by a group of ominous looking men; a recognisable scene to anyone watching the news. Yet there is no indication of context, only the emotional atmosphere of the situation.
Wall has exhibited in solo exhibitions in Canada, the U.S., and Europe; notably the Whitechapel Gallery, London (2001); Tate Modern (2005); and the Art Institute of Chicago (2007). He has also received recognition in being awarded the Hasselblad Award in 2002 and was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada in 2006.
Jeff Wall works and lives in Vancouver, Canada.
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