Writing from Art

Activity Steps:

Use Jeff Wall's work as a jumping-off point from which to produce a piece of creative writing.

1. Look closely:
Explore the works of Jeff Wall online. Be sure to click on all images, read all documents, watch the videos, and use the zoom tool to look closely at the works of art. Choose one of these works of art and answer the following questions:
  1. From where do you think Wall drew his inspiration for this photograph?
  2. What emotions or story do you think he is trying to communicate to the viewer?
  3. How do you think this photograph is different from a painting? How is it similar?
2. Review:
Review Jeff Wall's three images The Destroyed Room (1978), After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue (1999-2000), and In front of a nightclub (2006).
3. Select:
Select one of these photographs on which to base your writing and study it carefully. Make a list of every element in the photograph. Decide whether you would like to write a short story, a play, or a film script.
4. Brainstorm:
Once you have selected one of Wall's photographs imagine the following scenarios:
If you selected The Destroyed Room: Imagine that Wall's photograph is the last scene in a film/story/play. Think about what might have happened prior to this scene. What led up to this final event? Your story/play/script should walk the reader through the events that led up to this point. If you selected After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue: Imagine that Wall's photograph is the first scene in a film/story/play. Think about why this person is where he is. How did he get there? Also, think about what will happen next. Where will he go and what or who will he encounter? If you selected In front of a nightclub (2006): Imagine that Wall's photograph is the middle scene in a film/story/play. Think about what might have happened prior to this scene and what might happen afterwards. Where are these people? Why are they there? Where are they going? What conflict might arise?
5. Express:
Write your film/story/play. Regardless of which scenario you select, be sure to think about the following:
  1. What question might your story answer?li>
  2. Who tells the story?
  3. What is the setting?
  4. Who are the characters?
  5. What form (genre) would suit your story best?
  6. Is there/some sort of conflict, mystery, romance?
  7. How do your characters feel/act?
Be sure to include dialogue and a clear description of the setting! Also, be sure to consistently refer back to your brainstorming notes as well as Wall's photograph while you are writing. Your piece should be three to five pages long.
6. Share:
Share your writing with a small group of your peers. After reading, be sure to give one another feedback and discuss:
  1. Did the author write descriptively?
  2. Are the characters clearly differentiated?
  3. Are you able to clearly understand who the characters are and what the conflict is?li>
  4. Are you able to get a complete sense of what the set or setting looks, sounds, and feels like?
  5. Are you able to see a clear link between the author's writing and Wall's photograph?
  6. How could the author improve their writing and make it more vivid?
7. Reflect:
In your journal, reflect on what you learned through this process. Now that you have completed this activity, what did you learn about yourself as a writer through this process? Reflect on the following questions: How can a photograph tell a story? How can a story be condensed to become a photograph? How can the medium of photography both depict reality and create fiction? Where is the line between reality and fiction?
8. Expand:
Create a photograph of the last scene or the first scene you described in your story. This will be a staged photograph.