Informing Contexts - Jeff Wall Interview : Pictures Like Poems
Updated: May 3
Over the passed two months or so I have been reflecting about my current photography practice, what I want to shoot, what I want to say in my images and I guess ultimately decide where I want to take it next. Having always considered myself a 'jack of all trades', experimenting with a wide range of genres, styles and techniques I have had this underlying fear that I was 'the master of none' and was therefore keen to address this head on.
Having completed a personal review of my images it was apparent that there was more often than not an aesthetic at play, whether this be overt in the lighting or composition, or more subtle through texture layers or double exposures. My images tend towards the fine art rather than documentary scale of things.... if such a scale exists. However there was something more fundamental at play and having reached out to a number of my peers and fellow photographers it became more obvious that my images tend to be structured and composed and less spontaneous. Whilst the moment is frozen, I may have stood for 20 minutes first to get the exact shot I wanted.
In my research I have become aware of the work of both Jeff Wall and Gregory Crewdson and whilst on face value my images bear little similarity to either's work, their meticulous planning and setting up of their scenes really spoke to me.
Jeff Wall's image opposite, Overpass taken in 2001 is a great example where on first gaze appears to be a snap shot, or at best a street photography image catching the exact moment that four 'nomads' as Jeff puts it, cross the overpass. Yet further reading into this image opens up the hours spent getting this scene ready with the four 'actors' walking across the scene. Wall waiting for the right moment to take the shot, choosing to wait for the white truck to come into view and complete the composition.
As my research and appreciation of his work continued I took the opportunity to watch a key interview with Wall, recorded in 2015 and hosted on The Louisiana Channel, and available on YouTube.(Wall, 2015)
Wall speaks about his love of making and creating the composition and that this is the most important aspect for him in terms of taking the image. He absorbs everyday life that is going on around him and through this and reading books, poetry or listening to music ideas emerge in terms of his next shot. He speaks of art and therefore photography as being an aesthetic experience. The fact that photographs do not directly tell a story as they are still. At best they will give us patterns that we recognise and may suggest a narrative but it is very much the viewer who writes the story.
We can all appreciate an image and say we like it or it is good. This is ultimately the subject coming through to us as the viewer. However in much the same way as poetry feels true, so photography has a very similar response, you can just feel it. He emphasises that from all the different forms of art, photography is perhaps most aligned to poetry for this reason.
My current practice is resting heavily in the 'still life' arena at the present time, and I do see these as constructed realities. Whilst Wall will have directed four people to cross an Overpass, my placing of three pears in a scene will be adopting very similar behaviours and artistic intent.
As I build up my portfolio of work I am exploring the importance of text in my images. Whilst I am happy to leave a degree of ambiguity in my work, and let the viewer tell the story I am keen to at least give a guiding hand in the direction I want them to go. Wall's interview really resonated with me and the link to poetry is an appealing tangent for me. I am therefore intending to compose short lines of verse that will accompany my photographs and help the viewer 'feel' what I attempting to say in the construction of my images.
Having researched a lot of works of art recently including the work of the Dutch Master's of the 17th Century, I will leave this post with a final observation from Wall which I adore. In commenting about Art from the Past, he stressed that this does not technically exist, as all Art is from the Now. As its available for him to see and view, then so it is influencing him in the now.
I will continue to be inspired and influenced by the likes of Wall and Crewdson and many more both now and in the future.
Jeff Wall - Overpass - 2001
Steve Rabone - Virtue - 2021
Wall, J. (2015). Jeff Wall Interview: Pictures Like Poems. [online] YouTube. Available at: https://youtu.be/HkVSEVlqYUw [Accessed 24 Feb. 2021].