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

  • Thomas Hirschhorn

    A World of Collage

    Swiss artist Thomas Hirschhorn juxtaposes pixelated images from the media. His works are not about technology, says the artist: “I try to give form to what I can’t accept: that someone else can decide for me what I should do, see or think.”

  • Karin Mamma Andersson

    Paintings as Weapons

    “It is the psyche of the artist that is the product, it sprung from your own well, it’s your own water,” says Sweden’s great painter Karin Mamma Andersson in this portrait. “The moment you dig into something, it becomes a sort of self-image.”

  • Daniel Richter

    On Vienna vs. Berlin

    “As ‘a working tourist’ in Vienna you see all these smells of the past and not all of them are disgusting.” Hear why German painter Daniel Richter prefers Vienna – where he works as professor at the Akademie der Bildenden Künste Wien – over Berlin.

  • Jonathan Safran Foer

    On Donald Trump

    Jonathan Safran Foer, star of American literature, offers interesting views on America’s new president and the consequences Trump will have on American culture. "The place for literature may be even more important than before," he says.

  • Dorte Mandrup

    Where Place Meets Sculpture

    Rising from the landscape in a place rich with materiality and history sits architect Dorte Mandrup’s new Wadden Sea Centre. Meet the renowned architect and see a building were “everything comes together.”

  • Bill Viola

    Cameras are Soul Keepers

    When video artist Bill Viola was 6 years old he fell into a lake, all the way to the bottom, to a place which seemed like paradise. "There's more than just the surface of life." Viola explains. "The real things are under the surface".

  • 5 Artists

    on Making Sculptures

    “All sculpture that I’m interested in knows that death is the inevitable conclusion.” Award-winning artist Antony Gormley sees art as the expression and generation of hope. Hear how he and five other artists work with sculpture.

  • Karl Ove Knausgård

    Literature Should be Ruthless

    Karl Ove Knausgård has enchanted the literary world with ‘My Struggle’, a novel of more than 3000 pages about his own life. Watch the star author discuss literature, writing and how his autobiographical style is closely connected to fiction.

  • Nick Cave

    The World is my Skin

    Have you ever wished that you could put on a suit which would open up the imagination and take you to the world of your dreams? In this video artist Nick Cave presents his wearable sculptures, the 'Soundsuits', made from discarded everyday materials.

  • Joan Jonas

    Advice to the Young

    “Love what you do. Because it’s not easy. It’s not easy to make art.” Watch as the iconic video and performance artist Joan Jonas advises her younger colleagues to enjoy what they’re doing as you never know how people will respond to your work.

  • Gerhard Richter

    In Art We Find Beauty and Comfort

    “I don’t really believe art has power. But it does have value. Those who take an interest in it find solace in art. It gives them huge comfort.” Gerhard Richter, one of the greatest painters of our time, discusses beauty in the era of the internet.

  • Daniel Libeskind

    Tribute to New York

    “If you took the whole world and collapsed it into one little ball, you’d find it here, in this city.” Daniel Libeskind, world-renowned architect behind the new World Trade Center site, gives tribute to his city in this short and colourful video.