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Contemporary art

Western art


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Jeff Wall


29 Sep 1946 -


To produce his elaborately staged tableaux photographs, Jeff Wall constructs a scene before, and for, the camera. Each element of the shot, from the the minutia of the mise en scène to the postures of his protagonists, is carefully callibrated and charged with narrative and allegorical intent. Wall retains tight control over this photographic landscape and pre-determines all aesthetic decisions before the time comes for the click of the shutter. With these works – often staggering in their formal complexity and seductive in their cinematic yet ambigous narrative schemes– the camera must be patient, for the ‘event’ of photographic inscription takes place only once all compoents of the composition have coalesced within the frame. This way of working is slow, measured and calculated. Yet it is not the only tactic that Wall adopts as a photographer. The photographs that Wall takes on his phone camera, and releases in large editions, serve as an abrupt (and seemingly antithetical) counterpoint to his trademark tableaux scenes. Here, the camera isn’t mounted on a tripod waiting for its curtain call, but is pulled out instinctively – with a quick draw reflex – to catch a fleeting event.

The subjects these phone photographs depict are plucked from the flotsum of everyday life; people on the street, looking through shop windows and largely oblivious to the fact that they have been spotted, and isolated, by the camera lens. The texture and composition of the images betray the impulsive gesture of the photographer. Sharp focus is sacrifised in the interest of agility and speed of capture and in the ragged, pixelated outlines of each transcribed form we begin to register the strained urgency implicit in a dramatic zoom. These are photographs that have been savenged rather than composed and, as such, they expose candid truths about the way we engage with photography in the era of the digital deluge. Trawling through hundereds of photographs on a daily basis, on the same device Wall has used to capture and distill these scenes, we have ourselves become scavengers. The woman in 'Searcher', one such photograph, is doubled over as she picks up an indiscernable object off the pavement. With this gestures she becomes a mirror and an echo of Wall himself. Her gaze, obscured from us by a hood and a cascade of hair, is intently trained on the object of her attention. She reaches forward, so does Wall. As he grabs his phone and concentrates the lens on the scene he performes a mimetic and imitative gesture. Her scavenging becomes his own.




Media category


Materials used

inkjet print




32.0 x 47.5 cm image approx.

Signature & date

Signed and dated l.l. sheet, pencil "JW 2007...".


Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Collection Benefactors Program 2017


Not on display

Accession number


Artist information

Jeff Wall

Works in the collection