As part of my research for our preparation task for Informing Contexts I listened to Jeff Wall talking about photography in general and his exhibition Pictures Like Poems.  Wall is similar to Cindy Sherman in that he expects the viewer to work out the narrative of his work and respond to it emotionally, similar to how we might react to poems:

“Take away the verbal description, you get into the pure picture – and then you have to relate to it as a poem.”

Wall talks about viewing a photograph by looking through the surface which provides me with a really graphic insight into how we might seek meaning and understanding of the images in front of us.

Wall talks about his pure enjoyment in seeing everyday things such as a tree, a face or a sidewalk.  He says he is very observant by nature and his photographs are generated through seeing experiences and these become the subjects of his work.  As a consequence, his images happen by accident rather than him having a plan.  This, for me, is in sharp contrast to David Hurn who talks at length about researching and selecting a subject.  Wall on the other hand finds subjects through an occurrence or the absence of an occurrence.  My preference is to plan, research and organise my choice of subject and the images I take – that is not to say that when I am out in the field I choose to take something else that inspires me more or in different way to that I might have planned.  I undertake a lot of pre-visualisation before I set foot in the field, whereas Wall seems to go out almost without agenda, apart from perhaps to find some subject matter.

Wall has two approaches in his image making.  One is to take what on the surface might appear to be a snapshot and secondly, building photo montages.  Wall is not spontaneous in his image-making process.  He works tirelessly on composition and his images keep changing as they are made.  For example, The Overpass, is a montage where he collaborated with the subjects and spent a considerable time making sure the shape of the four people and other component parts of the image worked together.

Jeff Wall – The Overpass

As he was taking the image he explained that the weather changed, the sky changed and the vehicles coming down the road changed too.  In the final image the white truck was important to its final composition.

The Nightclub, whilst on the face of it might just be a snapshot of a street scene outside a night club, in fact, the whole façade was built in a studio and the people were asked to pose in certain ways – this approach reflects the influence of cinematography in his work.

Jeff Wall – The Nightclub

In this performative photography he spends time adding and taking away elements to combine them in a way that achieves his vision.

Wall talks about his image making as grasping something about the world that others can relate to.  He suggests the viewer writes the story through connecting to their own memories and associations – through their own life experiences.  This is something that I have been doing in my work through finding a universality that others can relate to and hoping they join me on my journey of finding ways to understand and manage dark memories from my past.

Linking this to our task which is about the “human choices” we make as photographers, Wall, on the one hand has a relaxed approach to what he might come across on a particular day, but once he has found a subject he then takes control of the image-making process from that point forward.  But once made, the viewer is given control to find their own narrative based on their life experiences.  Very interesting . . .


WALL Jeff, (2015), Pictures Like Poems, YouTube videoUw

Alison Price

Alison Price

My name is Alison Price and for the past ten years I have travelled the world photographing wildlife, including Alaska, Antarctica, Borneo, Botswana, the Canadian Arctic, Kenya, Rwanda, South Africa, Zambia and Zimbabwe.
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