MEXICO CITY.- Jeff Wall divides his photographs into two categories: documentary and cinematographic. A documentary photograph for Wall is tied to the traditional understanding of this term: a depiction of a specific time and place, without any overt manipulation on his part. A cinematographic photograph involves some form of intervention or restructuring by the artist. This category has ranged from slight movements of elements within a given situation, to more elaborate approaches that involve the construction of sets and other aspects of stagecraft. The selection of photographs presented here, which focuses primarily on work produced during the last seven years, allows a compelling look at the recent ways in which Walls decades-old engagement with both of these production methods continues to inform his practice.
Born in 1946, Wall began as a painter, but turned toward photography in the 1960s. He was drawn to the work of contemporary artists such as Edward Ruscha, Robert Smithson and Dan Graham; artists who were using the documentary aesthetic of photography for the purposes of Conceptual Art. Concurrently, Wall was attracted to the drama and inventiveness of older pictorial art. He studied art history in the 1960s and 1970s, becoming deeply engaged with the work of Velázquez, Manet and Cézanne.
When Wall began making photographs in the 1970s, the documentary aesthetic of a previous generation of photographers, artists such as Walker Evans or Robert Frank, had a strong influence on how the medium was defined and understood. Their dominant work, while of interest to Wall, at the time appeared closed or limited in offering a new direction for the medium. Cinema, and the investigations of directors such as Jean-Luc Godard, Jean-Marie Straub, Danielle Huillet, Ingmar Bergman and Rainer Werner Fassbinder, offered Wall new ways of thinking about the possibilities for photography. The artist was particularly inspired by the manner in which these filmmakers in the 1970s felt open to experiment with a diversity of styles or genres, moving freely between documentary-style films and elaborately staged productions.
From these interests, Wall developed a practice in the late 1970s that used photography to depict highly constructed scenes, which critiqued the accepted documentary tradition. His works were large, life-size, or close to life-size, and mounted on light-boxes. Their scale was influenced by that of history painting, whose large-format and materiality Wall recognized as engaging the viewer in a confrontational manner, as an alternate physical entity or presence.
While the subject matter of Walls initial photographs stressed their constructed or filmic qualities, the artist soon began to add documentary photographs to his oeuvre, beginning in the early 1980s. He is best known for his cinematographic images, which have had a large influence, particularly during the 1990s, on the expansion of notions of how the medium could be engaged. What is less widely recognized is the specific play that the artist set up, early on in the development of his production, between these works and documentary images. Wall is quick to point out that both these uses of the medium have existed since its inception. Pictorialism, developed in the first decades of photography, engaged staged subjects, technical manipulations and theatricality. Concurrently, during its initial stages, photography was recognized as the ideal medium for recording a specific temporal or spatial moment.
This exhibition includes recent examples of color images presented on light-boxes, as well as large-format black and white prints, a technique the artist first incorporated into his practice in 1996. Both formats present photographs developed through Wall´s documentary and cinematographic methods. For example, the works Tattoos and Shadows (2000), Tenants (2007), or Men Waiting (2007) have involved the detailed placement of the elements depicted, while A sapling supported by a post (2000), Burrow (2004), or Bloodstained Garment (2003), represent strictly documentary photographs. Although Wall sees each as of these working methods as distinct, he additionally recognizes how these two structural referents blur, become confused and overlap, serving to enrich his work and to reveal defining characteristics of photography as a medium.
Curator: Tobias Ostrander
Jeff Wall was born in Vancouver, Canada in 1946, where he continues to live and work. He received a Masters in Art History from the University of British Columbia, Vancouver in 1970. He pursued Doctoral Research at The Courtland Institute of Art, University of London, from 1970 to 1973. His recent awards include: The Paul de Huek and Norman Walford Career Achievement Award for Art Photography, 2001, Ontario Arts Council, Canada; Erna and Victor Hasselblad Foundation International Award in Photography, 2002, Gotteborg, Sweden; Roswitha Haftmann Prize for the Visual Arts, 2003, Zurich, Switzerland. His recent solo exhibitions include: Jeff Wall, UCLA Hammer Museum, Lobby Gallery, Los Angeles, 2003; Jeff Wall, Astrup Fearnley Museum, Oslo, Norway, 2004; Jeff Wall. Photographs 1978-2004, Tate Modern, London, 2005-2006; Jeff Wall, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, The Institute of Chicago, Chicago, San Francisco Museum of Art, San Francisco, 2007; Jeff Wall: Exposure, Deutsche Guggenheim, Berlin, 2007.