Sunday, February 25, 2007

What Jeff Wall Said to Me

Today's New York Times Magazine has a lengthy article by Arthur Lubow titled Luminist about Jeff Wall's photography and his show at the MoMA. I've never met Jeff Wall and in fact didn't know much about his work until this last week but after reading this article I've been thinking about some of the things he has to say which challenge some of my long held dogmas.

Jeff doesn't like small 8x10 prints. He likes wall size prints like the paintings of Manet and Velazquez. Big prints seem to be where it is at today and maybe that is because it has become easier to make them with digital printing. At first I thought big prints were just a gimmick but the more I see them and even see some of my own work at a 36x36 size, the more I realize that it changes the viewer's experience with an image that is on the wall. The viewer can move into the image. It wasn't easy for me to give up my prejudice for small prints that can be held in the hand but I've finally had to admit that seeing a small print in the hand or in a book is a different experience than seeing a 3x6 foot print on a wall.

From what I read about Jeff he has embraced new technology.....giant light boxes, Photoshop, digital printing whatever instruments, tools or technology can help him make the images he wants to make. Well, I'm kind of past the film/digital/technology issue but I know people who aren't. But when Jeff starts to make sets for his images and hire people to populate those sets, I start to get a bit nervous. Isn't photography suppose to be about catching the "decisive moment?" Isn't photography suppose to be about making 1,000's of images a year in hopes that 10 or 12 will be keepers? Should you pay people to pose for you? Isn't paying people to pose kind of like commercial photography? Isn't there some kind of pride in catching them unaware? You know, the hidden camera, telephoto lens or shooting from the hip?

Jeff doesn't want to people to get hung up in his process of making images. You mean I'm not suppose to tell everyone that I'm making my images with a cheap Holga or using a lens with bad glass to make my images. I'm suppose to just let them judge the image for its content and not like the image for the way it was captured.

Many of Jeff's ideas for images come from his knowledge of art history. Not that the images are a photographic copy but that something about the lighting or issues in the older art triggers a contemporary idea. Well I certainly could use more ideas so I should be studying more art history.

I guess the things that impress me most about Jeff is that he has a driving vision and he is a control freak. I'm really quite intrigued by him and the way he has chosen to present his work in large light boxes. I'd really like to see this show because his work is never going to be the same in a book and certainly not from a Internet image on a monitor.

A real conversation with Jeff Wall and David Shapiro
Jeff Wall's images from a show at the Tate Modern

No comments: