Jeff Wall


1946, Vancouver, Canada

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Wall explains why he “begins by not photographing”

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When looking at a photograph by Jeff Wall, you may not immediately realize that what you’re looking at has been painstakingly staged by the artist. Here’s Jeff Wall: 



I developed that phrase, I begin by not photographing, because it just described something that I really do. So if I see something on the street, lets say, I don’t photograph it. So I could be looking and hunting for things; but I just don’t photograph them.  

In the sixties and seventies, the notion of doing what I call cinematography, or what’s sort of commonly called staged photography, was considered to be a completely unacceptable mode of photography at the time.  

I didn’t use the term cinematography right off the bat. I began to use it a little bit later, when I realized that it kind of defined how I was collaborating with people and how I was setting in motion preliminary preparations to make a photograph. And it struck me at some point, and I realized that of course, Id learned a lot of this from reflection on what happens in filmmaking. All the qualities that you can find in filmmaking are available to the photographer. I just boil them down to: preparation, which means simply doing doings in advance of taking the picture; and collaboration, which is just having contact with probably the people who are being photographed.  

And that’s, to me, a much more interesting way to look at the whole phenomenon than to see, you know, straight photography, on the one side, as being totally spontaneous, and then staged photography, on the other side, as being totally blatant and theatrical. There’s all this gray space in between that was much, much more interesting. 

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