Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall

Pictures Like Poems

Discover what inspires and motivates one of the modern masters of photography, Canadian Jeff Wall, who here discusses a selection of his impressive photographs and their often meticulous compositions.

“The camera creates such a beautiful illusion, an illusion so similar to what we see with our eyes, it seems as though we’re looking through the surface.” To be observant is key to Jeff Wall. Picture making of any kind – from photography to sculpturing – expresses an acceptance of the way things are and appear: “I love the appearance of a tree or a face or a sidewalk… I get enjoyment just from seeing them.”

Wall’s photographs are often made from something as abstract as an occurrence – or the absence of an occurrence – and when there is no explanatory text to guide you, you have to be sensitive to what you’re looking at and figure out the story for yourself. Like in poetry, the subject and its value has to come through to you by means of what it makes you feel: “Take away the verbal description, you get into the pure picture – and then you have to relate to it as a poem.”

One part of Wall’s pictures is traditional photomontages, where one previews in the mind’s eye what a place would potentially look like in a picture. The other part is what he calls ‘near-documentary photographs’, which resemble snapshots but are not. Creating these is a laborious process where a scene sometimes – and always out of necessity – has to be completely reconstructed and staged, often from several pictures. This act of composition and construction is of utmost interest to Wall, who is intrigued by the playful nature of ‘truth’ in photography: “A very accurate replica of a place itself has a documentary quality.”

Jeff Wall (b. 1946) is a Canadian photographer based in Vancouver. In the 1970s he began to produce and exhibit large-scale transparent photographs mounted on light boxes, which became his first artistic hallmark. He holds a MA in art history from University of British Columbia and the Courtauld Institute in London. His work has been exhibited in numerous international exhibitions, including Tate Modern in London, The Art Institute of Chicago, the San Francisco Museum of Art, National Gallery of Victoria in Melbourne, the Museo Tamayo in Mexico City, Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, Kunsthaus Bregenz and MoMA in New York. Wall is the recipient of numerous prizes, including the Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography (2002) and the Audian Prize for Lifetime Achievement in the Visual Arts (2008). Moreover, he was named Officer of the Order of Canada in 2007.

Jeff Wall was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Humlebæk in March 2015 in connection to the exhibition ‘Jeff Wall: Tableaux Pictures Photographs – Works from 1996-2013’. All the pictures featured in the video can be found in the publication of the same title.

The three pictures discussed in depth in the video are ‘Concreteball’ (2002), ‘Overpass’ (2001) and ‘In Front of a Nightclub’ (2006), all by Jeff Wall.

Camera: Kasper Kiertzner
Edited by: Kamilla Bruus
Produced by: Marc-Christoph Wagner
Cover photo: ‘After Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (2000) by Jeff Wall
Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2015

Supported by Nordea-fonden

  • Joshua Oppenheimer

    Making the Invisible Visible

    "You have to find the traces of fear and silence that are visible, whether it's in the furrow of someone's brow or in the water as it flows down an aging torso." Joshua Oppenheimer talks about the making of his Oscar-nominated documentaries.

  • Erica Jong

    Advice to the Young

    “Remember that if you write about sexuality they’re going to think it’s an invitation to fuck you or rape you. But go on writing about it anyway.” Iconic feminist writer Erica Jong shares a lifetime of hard earned lessons.

  • 8 Writers

    on Facing the Blank Page

    “It’s like a slightly overweight, bald boss saying: ‘Oy, get to work! You’re supposed to be a writer, aren’t you? You can’t just sit around on your fat ass waiting to be inspired’.” Hear how David Mitchell and seven other authors face the blank page.

  • Jonathan Franzen

    Advice to the Young

    How do you succeed as a writer? Get useful, and humorous, advice from someone who indeed has indeed made it through the loophole – chart-topping American novelist Jonathan Franzen.

  • Clemens Setz

    Great Art for Banal Reasons

    “When someone writes a nice piece of music and it affects me, I always think to myself: how can this happen? He doesn’t know me and has been dead for three centuries.” Meet Clemens Setz, one of Austria’s important young writers.

  • Cécile B. Evans

    The Virtual is Real

    “I just don’t believe in the word ‘virtual’,” says artist Cécile B. Evans and argues that in today’s society, where drones are used for warfare and romantic relationships begin online we can no longer distinguish between the so-called real and the virtual.

  • Erik A. Frandsen

    Drawing Out Memories

    Distinguished Danish artist Erik A. Frandsen here shares how the trance-like experience of a 35 days and 1,050-kilometre long walk was transferred into a stunning exhibition of multi-coloured mosaic columns and beautiful watercolour sketches.

  • David Shrigley

    Advice to the Young

    “You’re on the right track if you’re excited about what you’re doing.” David Shrigley, known for his humorous spin on common situations, here advises his colleagues to be open to learning from mistakes and stresses that being an artist “isn’t for everybody.”

  • Manal Al Dowayan

    Protecting Words

    “The written word is about engaging the viewer.” Let us introduce you to the cool Saudi Arabian artist Manal Al Dowayan, who here shares why she has chosen to integrate words into her art – and why they are so powerful.

  • Ragnar Kjartansson & Mother

    On ’Me and My Mother’

    Every five years, artist Ragnar Kjartansson asks his mother to spit on him for several minutes in front of a camera. The Icelandic mother and son here discuss the fascinating performance, which Kjartansson argues has become “like a part of our family life.”

  • William Kentridge

    Reduced to Being an Artist

    ”One can always write ones biography in the terms of the failures which have saved you.” Meet South African artist William Kentridge in this extensive and humorous reflection upon life and his relationship with art.

  • Alex Da Corte and Ed Atkins

    In Conversation

    “My vote is for incoherence.” We brought together two young artists, who have taken the art world by storm. Experience Alex Da Corte and Ed Atkins in this video where they talk about each other’s video works and their contexts.