Jeff Wall’s photography is a mixed media event that indulges more in narrative than in color, although color is an important part of his composition. Wall’s photograph is unique as well as reminiscent: his work builds off of the work of Delecroix and Manet. In this fashion Wall’s work combines a sense of artistic style with film and the ever present narrative. This paper will present three photographs of Jeff Wall with analysis on their use of narrative, color, composition and meaning (Holmes paragraph One).
The Destroyed Room
Jeff Wall’s expression in The Destroyed Room is in reference to window displays. In this photographer however the viewer gains a very different perspective than the neat and pedestrian window displays seen on 5th avenue during Christmas, instead Wall presents a room ripped apart. The main inspiration to the chaos as opposed to the control seen in typical window displays is in accordance to the punk style in which commodities and fanciful things such as high heels (as seen in the photograph) become a form of high class culture which the punks sought out to de-value as unnecessary.
Wall’s ‘revenge’ as he states in this room is against domesticity, of corpulent people living mediocre lives in display window fashion instead of focusing on what lies beneath the surface of their culture: the dirt, the chaos, the room shredded in a protest against a docile living condition placated the rich. Of this photograph, Wall states, “… I was lecturing on Romanticism.
I think the Sardanaphalus is a very important picture historically and psychologically because it shows the eroticized ideal of military glory which characterized the Napoleonic period being turned inward, back toward domestic life at the end of that epoch, at the beginning of modern, bourgeois, neurotic private life” (MoMA paragraph One). Thus, this photograph is an elaboration on the idea that domesticity has no truth and thus the violence of the upheaval in the room.
The Mimic Jeff Wall’s photography while alluding to specific figures in art, and their work, does not necessarily ‘steal’ from these works, but enhances upon the concept which the artist originally wanted to present to the audience. In this fashion, Wall’s photography does not mimic other photographers but merely, as the saying goes, builds upon their shoulders, and their work into an evolution of art.
In the photograph The Mimic Wall illustrates this point: Wall’s photograph pays homage to the works of ‘Manet, Caravaggio, and Valezquez’ (MoMa paragraph Four) in that his focal figures are in the foreground of the piece, and they, as much as possible, appear to be life size (this is accentuated in their movement and their surrounding environment such as the buildings, the street and their placement next to one another).
By using a trio as the focal point in The Mimic, Wall creates a specific dynamic between these figures in which the tension is very much palpable as the viewer may surmise from the look of the woman to the right of the man flipping off the other man, in the look of the central figure, one of angst, hate, and general animosity and the response of the figure on the left of the central figure in his response to being flipped off; the squint of the eye and the snarl in the lip “Mimic was made in 1982 and was a pictures in which I concentrated a lot on a typical gesture, perhaps a micro-gesture but certainly a small gesture of race hatred” (MoMA paragraph Six).
Wall does not only build tension in the photograph but in the elapsing space behind the central figures is seen the tension emphasized. Thus, although the photograph is expansive in its depth, it’s size and its movement from one figure to another it is also a very traditional ‘portrait’ as is presented in Wall’s comparing of it to the three prestigious artists as mentioned above. Thus, although the crude behavior may be of a punk generation (the photograph was made in 1982), the candidness juxtaposes the classical feel of the piece. Milk Here again the viewer will see a typical motion of Wall’s in his photographer, that of explosion.
Although most of his photographs portray the act of explosion after the fact (as in The Destroyed Room) this photograph portrays the act of explosion while midway through the air. This is in itself is a gesture of magnitude, as the other photographs mentioned in the paper only hint or makes previous reference to this motion (the racial hatred in The Mimic shows the subtle look of someone about to explode but not the full act). In this photograph Wall explores the natural shape and form of an eruption, as Wall states, “The explosion of the milk from its container takes a shape which is not really describable or characterizable, but which provokes many associations. A natural form with all of its unpredictable contours, is an expression of infinitesimal metamorphoses of quality.
Photography seems perfectly adapted for representing this kind of movement or form. I think this is because of the mechanical character of the action of opening and closing the shutter—the substratum of instantaneity which persists in all photography—is the concrete opposite kind of movement from, for example, the flow of a liquid” (MoMA paragraph Ten). Thus, the action of the milk stands as an opposite to the camera’s shutter therefore mingling two opposite components into a single photograph which in itself becomes a mirror for fluidity. Conclusion Wall’s photographs have been explored in this paper as examples of movement, form, and the narrative of destruction in all three photographs is a palatable theme.
This destruction as seen in accordance to denying domesticity, to what race hatred may bring out in people, and in the explosion of the milk carton all are facets of the same definition, that is, destruction breeds movement, as is seen in each photograph either with the lens, or beyond the lens and into the story of the photograph. Wall’s photographs are narrative pieces that focus on the artist’s own personal narrative to his predecessor’s in art such as Caravaggio and Manet and hit tribute to them in his work reflecting their genius and taking their development of human form and space to the next level; to the level of including personal narrative with photographic art, thus truly standing on the shoulders’ of giants and reveling in a new dream and progression of art into this new century.
Wall’s photographs are a timetable from the past and into the future. This theme of destruction, or eruption and focus on the human condition only propels these ideas forward in a classical backdrop of foreground and space with the radical movements of the punk era and the politics of race matched with the fluid form of shapes, emotions, and that narrative is the theme which ties it all together.
Deutsche Guggenheim. Jeff Wall. 2007. Online. Retrieved 14 November 2007. < http://www. photography-now. com/artists/K08545. html> Holmes, T. Jeff Wall. Photography Art Contemporary. 2006. Online. Retrieved 14 November 2007. < http://www. photography-art