Staged photography of Jeff Wall


When I first saw the picture featured in The Guardian, I was struck by the spontaneity of a domestic scene: a wife walking away from her ironing to get something in the house. Her daughter or maybe sister is lounging at the sofa reading a magazine. Both are enjoying each other’s company in a weekend afternoon.

This is, however, not a candid shot but the staged photographic work by Jeff Wall. A Canadian artist and art historian whose highly cinematic work is sometimes compared to paintings, this photo overlooking the harbourside in Canada has taken him well over a year. He has waited for the woman to decorate and arrange the bric-a-bracs, and for the right season to be featured through the window. He has to wait for the apartment to evolve over time, and for it to acquire a story.

As the critique published in New York Times points out, ‘photography has always involved waiting.’ Henri Cartier-Bresson refers photography as the composition of ‘the decisive moment’.

We have assumed that this process of waiting applies more to the wildlife and nature photographers. The bee does not pose for the camera. The waiting is a craft, and sometimes the decisive factor that makes an unforgettable picture. This is especially easy to overlook in a world that celebrates digital snapshots and instantaneous upload-and-share photography. We have forgotten that most photographic works are, to a certain extent, deliberate. Other than deliberate composition, they also involve a careful selection process and, in some cases, editing or rendering.

In another of Jeff Wall’s photo, we see a black man with his back facing the camera. He is in a brightly illuminated room with the ceiling full of light-bulbs. The room is cluttered and chaotic, and he is engrossed in his work. The art-piece exposes the black man’s private world, such that the viewer cannot ignore his presence, his strength, or his poverty.

By manipulating the composition of a photograph, Jeff Wall draws attention to the authenticity of the genre: each image is a chosen moment, and pictures don’t tell a story.

4 comments on “Staged photography of Jeff Wall

  1. wrillaescache
    May 16, 2010

    Just want to say what a great blog you got here!
    I’ve been around for quite a lot of time, but finally decided to show my appreciation of your work!

    Thumbs up, and keep it going!

    Cheers
    Christian, iwspo.net

  2. lornaalkanaart
    November 10, 2012

    Great write up on Jeff Wall! The staging process, and the time it takes, reminds me of something Cindy Sherman once wrote about her art. She said that she switched from painting to photography because painting took too long.

    I suppose setting up a photo can take a while, but setting up a photo to turn into a painting would take even longer. I’m with Sherman and Wall.

    • jenniferinlondon
      November 11, 2012

      Agree with you… And the time it takes to make it good!

    • jenniferinlondon
      February 3, 2013

      I agree with your comment. It’s fascinating to see the similarities and differences between photography and painting.

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This entry was posted on May 10, 2010 by in Cultures, Exhibitions and tagged , , , , .

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