Tag Archives: Jeff Wall

A Matter of cleaning up: treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall

I came across this journal article purely by chance and as it relates to image and text I made a few brief notes.

By comparing the works of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, van Gelder considers two photographic artistic methodologies. She also looks at the different ways that Sekula and Wall treat the relationship between the photograph and its caption(s); diverging attitudes towards the pictorial aspects of photography; the interaction between their essays and images – which differs widely.

‘there is a larger montage principle at work than that internal to any single work, or even book. Any retrospective look allows for that larger montage to emerge’.

Allan Sekula

Sekula’s preferred method of working is to encourage the viewer to consider his entire project in totality, with ‘cross-references and meaningful links to invisible but recoverable images’.  Sekula is sceptical of the legibility of the individual image and so prefers to present his work as a combination of text and images.

Build a sequence based on another picture that is not part of the sequence.

Allan Sekula (artist statement)

Photographs that were not part of an exhibition/presentation, but which were part of the original concept often contributed to the conceptual framework he was working with. The absent photos are part of his visual thought pattern. Sekula works with diptychs and triptychs, double and triple motifs that change the content of the images slightly. So the captioning of his images is quite important in providing clues to the relationship of the images. His captioning is quite cryptic, subtly concealed, often providing links to other images or even essays, not working on a one-to-one relationship with the image they are paired with. (This might be why I found the one exhibition of his work I attended a few years ago quite confusing – wish I had know about this at that time).

Both artists are art critics in their own right as well, but the way they present their work is again entirely different. Sekula does not delineate his critical texts from his images in his presentational methods – both are always intermingled. Wall, on the other hand, does not exhibit his photographs together with his essays. His essays are published in exhibition catalogues or art magazines. His way of working confirms the division of labour between the artist and the critic. He is an artist/critic. Wall fixes the meaning of his photographs with his use of text, while Sekula tries to get rid of the discursive schism between the critical essay and the images.

‘[A]s soon as you create a relay between a text and an image, you undermine any purist claims for either text or image. Neither element is foundational. The image is no longer the truth upon which the text is a commentary or subjective gloss, nor is the text a pinning down of a truth that is otherwise elusive in the image’.

Allan Sekula

For Sekula ‘an image is always part of the larger montage that is made up by the non-totalitarian totality-to employ a Deleuzian term-of his photographic archive’ (more on Deleuze here). Sekula’s texts help to contextualise and further the work and offer the viewer an insight to the photographer’s point of view. His texts and photographs are so interwoven that it is difficult to discern where Sekula the artist or Sekula the critic begins and ends.

van Gelder then compares of a few of Wall’s photographs with those of Sekula’s and goes into a little more of the specifics of the points mentioned above.

Reference List

van Gelder, H. (2007) A matter of cleaning up: Treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, History of Photography, 31:1, 68-80, DOI:10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503 [Accessed 14 August, 2017]

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Jeff Wall: In order to make a picture

I have a few documentaries recorded on my PVR which I haven’t got around to watching yet, so a few nights ago I made a start. The movie director, Lu Nelson “provides an insider’s look at the work and process of world renowned Vancouver photographer Jeff Wall. The documentary was created as a portrait of Wall working in the studio and on location in the process of making two works: Spring Snow and Woman Covered with a Tray.

Commentaries were interspersed throughout the documentary by Peter Galassi, former Chief Curator of MOMA, Willard Holmes, COO Museum of Fine Art in Houston and former director of the Vancouver Art Gallery and Jean-Francois Chevrier, Art Historian, Curator and author. My notes consist of selected transcriptions, made mainly be these three people and a few quotes from Wall.

Jeff Wall
  • Wall crafts images, gradually building it up. Makes images that transmit and transform – his work constantly responds to the present. Transforms the tradition of the pictorial reinventing it first and transforms it by reinventing it.
  • Wall: “I want to slow photography down – slowing the time down by overcoming obstacles in order to make a picture”.
  • Wall’s compositions were inspired by things he had seen. By ‘seen things’ he was picking up on the famous expression of Victor Hugo: ‘seen things’.
  • The realm of chronicles is completely surpassed in Wall’s work. He re-stages everything, he replays things that there is a work of composition – of re-composition – and this work of re-composition transforms and displaces the ‘seen thing’ and translates the specificity of the ‘seen thing’ into a generic figure and so obviously we can’t speak anymore of the specificity of the ‘seen thing’ because there is no longer any objectivity that one could isolate. There is a process: a process of transformation, a process of displacement, a process of figuration, quite simply.
  • Wall: “Failing in your own eyes leaves a residue of ambition. Not reactive, but making things happen.” He refers to his work as ‘cinematography’.
  • Wall on the difference of an image and picture. An image happens instantaneously. A picture – how it is constructed, holds onto ambiguity. Movement and life are incalculable and photography captures that.
  • Wall: “Every picture is a start-over situation”.
Reference List

Knowledge Network (2017). Jeff Wall: In Order to Make a Picture. Dir. Lu Nelson. The West Films. 45 min 01 sec. [Accessed 15 May, 2017]

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Between Dreaming and Living – Vikky Alexander

Vikky Alexander is one of Vancouver’s most acclaimed artists and is a leading practitioner in the field of phto-conceptualism. According to the Capture Photography Festival’s catalogue (p 69) she investigates “culture’s appropriation and substitution of nature as it is manifest in mass-market interior design items such as photomurals of scenic landscapes, wood veneers, and decorative mirrors. Her work recognizes the artificial as a place for utopian fantasy, a surreal space where the natural is recreated in an improved or even perfected form”.

From the images in the exhibition at Chernoff Fine Art, I couldn’t identify any mass-market interior design items, or anything vaguely connected to consumerism, but these feature on her website.

Between Dreaming and Living by Vikky Alexander

The original body of work which was exhibited in 1985 in Vancouver began as sandwiched 35mm colour slides which she then converted into black and white prints and framed each with a coloured Plexiglass overlay. In 2008 she revisited this oeuvre by making colour Cibachrome prints from the original sandwiched sides. The images consist of appropriated images from magazines and calendars and her own landscape prints.

Between Dreaming and Living by Vikky Alexander

The images appeal more to the female gaze than the male gaze, having a dreamlike, romantic feel to them. There is a love story thread and one of desire that runs through this small collection of images on display. Although all the images had a surreal feel to them, some of the images felt a little too commercial, like the one directly above. I could easily see the image of the couple in an advertisement for engagement rings or something similar.

The gallery space was quite tiny, basically two walls in the front entrance of the store. On the other side of the main display wall were samples of frames, a few other prints that were for sale, including one by Jeff Wall which I have not seen before and which I found rather unusual for a Jeff Wall print. It did not have the clarity that Wall’s work usually displays, the majority of the print being slightly out of focus (not just my quick capture on the point and shoot camera). The print is also quite small (13 1/4 x 10 inches) and is retailing for CAD $5,400. Maybe this is one of those times Wall actually had a camera with him while he was on one of his walks and he just happened to snap this scene.

Reference List

Capture Photography Festival. (2017) Between Dreaming and Living. Vancouver: Chernoff Fine Art.

Art in the Twenty-first Century : Vancouver

ART21 on PBS has a new season of “Art in the Twenty-First Century”. This series concentrates on featuring the most innovative art around the globe. “Intimate footage allows the viewer to observe the artists at work, watch their process as they transform inspiration into art, and hear their thoughts as they grapple with the physical and visual challenges of achieving their artistic visions” (PBS). Each episode features a different city. This particular episode featured Vancouver and local artists Liz Magor, Stan Douglas, Brian Jungen and Jeff Wall.

I have seen Liz Magor’s work at the Catriona Jefferies Gallery and also at the Vancouver Art Gallery. When I viewed her work Catriona Jefferies Gallery I found it rather strange in that she used various materials that were clearly bound for the landfill. After watching the video, however, I have a better understanding of where she is coming from. She likes using objects in her sculptures, more correctly to create sculptures. She has a series of sculptures where she has created casts from worker’s gloves, where she acknowledges that she has fetishized the gloves, repurposing them and creating new contexts. She actually likens this process to photography – taking an object, then creating the negative (mould) and then creating the positive (the actual cast). The slowness of the process serves her intellectual awareness.

Stan Douglas’ work is extremely interesting. He showcased a historical app that he had made in historical Hogan’s Alley. He uses historical data to recreate or restage existing narratives. Also featured were some of his video work that work in parallax, where the viewer has to watch two or three screens simultaneously. One of the works featured was a live performance (Helen Lawrence) enacted in front of a blue screen that was filmed every night. The performance is a blend of film noir, computer simulation, and theatre.

What you see from the audience is bifocal: Three-dimensional actors in colourful costumes moving about in real space; and, at the same time the live-feed of them, turned two-dimensional and inserted into a visual black-and-white space displayed from familiarly disorienting film-noir camera angles.

Nestruck, Globe and Mail

Brian Jungen’s work is a very contemporary rendition of First Nations art. Like Liz Magor he repurposes objects to create new sculptures. Featured was a massive rendition of a whale’s skeleton, made entirely from white plastic garden chairs. I was quite flabbergasted when I saw that as it looks so realistic (on film anyway). The main theme that seems to run through his work is commodification. Using Nike running shoes he created various Native masks. He found that his artwork became so tied up with his identity.

Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS
Jeff Wall featured in Art in the Twenty-first Century on PBS

There were quite a few take-aways from Jeff Wall’s segment – statements made by him while discussing his working method. Here are a couple of quotes from Wall:

“There is no difference in between capturing a gesture by accident and capturing a gesture by design. So it is not really possible to have fakery in photography.”

“Pictures can never narrate. They can only imply a narrative but they can never deliberate. So what happens is when the viewer is having that experience, what they are really doing is writing the story. They are intuiting a narrative for themselves which will not be the same narrative for everybody.”

A really succinct way of summing up Roland Barthes’ “Death of the Author”. Wall’s work is very big and it was rather interesting to see the pre-exhibition behind scenes of conveying his large works to the fourth floor of the gallery (they had to be lifted by crane) and the mechanics of manoeuvring the images to the correct places to be hung.

The series is also available online, but it seems that it is not viewable in the UK.

Reference List

Art21 (2016). Art in the Twenty-first century [online]. PBS. Available at: http://www.pbs.org/show/art-21/ [Accessed 2 October, 2016]

Nestruck, J.K. (2014). Helen Lawrence: groundbreaking and old-fashioned, all at once [online]. Play Review. The Globe and Mail. Available at: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/arts/theatre-and-performance/theatre-reviews/helen-lawrence-groundbreaking-and-old-fashioned-all-at-once/article17589706/ [Accessed 2 October, 2016]