Whitecube Mason’s Yd, 23 November 2011 – January 2012
The photographic exhibition by Jeff Wall, has a vapid airy quality which on the surface seems to lack substance. However that is only the surface and one can be reassured that upon probing it more deeply lies a solid foundation of integral ideas. These photos are visually rich and appealing for anyone interested in art and photography in particular.
Landscape and image
The use of heavily unmediated and austere subject matter shows a maturity and a sense of individuality in the work which has subtle overtones to the existential and the spiritual as channels through which to outlet the visual image as a space of segmented thought and reflection. The sense of stillness or isolation which permeates the work may not have been to everyone’s taste but to those with a keen enough interest to take it in will bear witness to the unique and often fragile moments captured that almost narrate without words something of the death of that moment as captured by the artist in photography.
Subject matter and tonal
The photos are comprised of landscapes and chamber/interior shots. There is a combination of staged and unstaged photographs each of which is of a condensed rather cool palette with only little differentiation in tone. The lack of vibrancy and muted hues make each piece more compelling. Jeff Wall has always been a proponent of the understated as seen in ‘Picture for women’ 1979. Rather than relying on the visual as the primary interlocutor the often times empty spaces created by the absence of the overly present is what gives a Jeff Wall photograph its charm. For example in Jeff Wall’s ‘A sudden gust of wind’ pays homage to Hokusai in which he captures in a moment a very heavily staged photograph which appears spontaneous.
Visual meter and rythm
A look at the piece, ‘Ossiury head stone’ calls out to the soul as it were. There are the obvious signifiers through which this is done, i.e. a head stone, a crucifix and what appears to be an impression of a Christ like visage on the headstone itself. But almost as important as these semantic codifications is the mise en scene and presence of the location in which the grave is set. The uncared for almost derelict appearance of the rear wall and the level of decay through which weeds grow from beneath the surface of the hard red brick like a sea of fecundity through which life is given to something else, this itself suggests the transient and ethereal.
Apertures of thought
So what may one assume or derive from this exhibition and why should you spend your lunch break or leisure time on this. The reason that one may want to is the scale of the photographs and sense of zen like distilled isolation. Here is a photographic artist that is not pandering to sensation, the photos are what they are – just something – close to the truth.
A solid collection of recent photography from Jeff Wall, depicting still life and landscapes.
written by: Colin Humphrey