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EXHIBITION REVIEW // JEFF WALL PHOTOGRAPHS

 
A visitor viewing Jeff Wall's 'A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)' 1993
 
 
A visitor viewing Jeff Wall's 'A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)' 1993

A visitor viewing Jeff Wall’s ‘A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai)’ 1993


Lynette Letic reviews Jeff Wall’s exhibition at the Ian Potter Centre, NGV Melbourne.

“My work is a reconstruction and reconstruction is a philosophical activity. If I can create a drama that has philosophical meaning, that’s fine; or sometimes, it is not from meaning but a reconstruction of a feeling.” – Jeff Wall. (1)

One of the most innovative and influential photographers, Jeff Wall is recognised for his distinct cinematic and documentary approach to photography. Currently showing work at the Ian Potter Centre in Melbourne, Victoria, this is his first time exhibiting in Australia.

Jeff WALL Canadian 1946– The Destroyed Room 1978 transparency in light box, AP 159.0 x 234.0 cm Collection of the artist © Jeff Wall

Jeff WALL
Canadian 1946–
The Destroyed Room 1978 transparency in light box, AP 159.0 x 234.0 cm Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

Jeff WALL Canadian 1946– Double Self-Portrait 1979 transparency in light box, AP 172.0 x 229.0 cm Collection of the artist © Jeff Wall

Jeff WALL
Canadian 1946–
Double Self-Portrait 1979 transparency in light box, AP 172.0 x 229.0 cm Collection of the artist
© Jeff Wall

The exhibition features 26 photographs, spanning 1978 to 2010, and includes small-scale, thoughtful observations of ‘things’ in situ, as well as large-scale prints and colour transparencies presented in light boxes. His work is devoted to both social and aesthetic concerns, often staged, and depicting individuals in a fleeting moment, whether it be in conversation or contemplation.

Upon entering the gallery space, the viewer is met with the The Destroyed Room (1978), one of his earliest and most regarded works, glowing in its light box. With this image we are introduced to the beginning of Wall’s practice where he purposefully staged his pictures for the camera. Whilst addressing ‘photographic’ questions, The Destroyed Room declares its construction and artifice.(2) However, circulating through the space, one encounters more works that still possess Wall’s distinctive style, however each with a slightly varied approach and process.

For example, Double Self-Portrait (1979) depicts the “impossible”. Here, Wall has created the product of at least two exposures, a photographic tradition that links back to the nineteenth century of mirrored and doubled self-portraits.(3) Meanwhile, A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai) 1993 presents us with a more recent example of an image achieved in more than one photographic moment, with the assistance of digital technologies.

By this time, Wall’s work began to depart significantly from his documentary years, and move towards a new staged approach. This method is evident in more recent photographs such as A view from an apartment (2004-5), Knife throw (2008) and the highly compelling Boy falls from tree (2010).

In each of these works, we are faced with the protagonists in a seemingly confined space, a situation, a moment. Wall allows us to decipher the narrative of his images, based on close observation of all intricacy in their details. The enormity of the works allow the viewer to step forward and evaluate, absorb it not only as whole, but in pieces.(4) And thus, his work is about looking closely. As Wall states himself, “Experience and evaluation are richer responses than gestures of understanding or interpretation.”(5)

Jeff Wall Photographs is showing at the Ian Potter Centre, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne until 17 March 2013.

For more information about the exhibition, please visit the NGV website.

References:
1) Dufour, G & Crombie, I 2012, Jeff Wall Photographs, National Gallery of Victoria, Melbourne.
2) “Against the reality/fiction of history”, 1990 in G Dufour, Jeff Wall, Vancouver Art Gallery, pp. 59-63.
3) Burnett, C 2005 Jeff Wall, Tate, London.
4) Ibid.
5) Ibid.

Lynette Letic is an emerging photographic artist based in Brisbane.

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