Fishing on a Jetty comprises two large, framed, colour photographs which are hung adjacent to one another, with a narrow gap between them. The images form a complete scene. They show a man sitting on a wall by a waterfront holding a fishing rod. The figure, who is in fact the artist, appears in the right-hand photograph and the rod extends across the adjacent photograph on the left. A city at the foot of hills is visible in the background across a stretch of water and against a wide expanse of cloudy sky. Graham is dressed in a black hat and sunglasses, a white shirt, black waistcoat and black trousers. Tate’s copy is a unique artist’s proof aside from an edition of three.
The scene is derived from a moment in the film To Catch a Thief (1955) directed by Alfred Hitchcock (1899–1980). In the film, Cary Grant (1904–1986) stars as John Robie, a reformed cat burglar, who, while living in retirement from crime in the south of France, is accused of a series of jewellery thefts. In the sequence that inspired Fishing on a Jetty, Robie is pretending to fish in order to avoid attracting the attention of the police. He is, according to Graham, ‘half-heartedly disguised as a sport fisherman, though he is dressed rather too elegantly for the role, wearing sunglasses and an amusing hat’ (quoted in Rodney Graham, 2004, p.132). In Fishing on a Jetty Graham casts himself as Cary Grant. He has explained: ‘Cary Grant once said: “Everybody wants to be Cary Grant – even I want to be Cary Grant”. As for myself, I am not Cary Grant. I am only an actor pretending to be Cary Grant ... who is only pretending to be Robie, the cat burglar pretending to be an angler to avoid the authorities.’ (Quoted in Rodney Graham, 2004, p.132.) A further layer to Graham’s play on the instability of identity is added by the fact that Cary Grant was a stage name (the actor’s real name was Archibald Leach).
Graham is a Canadian conceptual artist working in Vancouver. His work appropriates a diverse range of source material, including books, poetry and music. During the 1980s and early 1990s he often used nineteenth-century sources in his work, including a short story by Edgar Allan Poe (1809–49) and the opera Parsifal by Richard Wagner (1813–83), (The System of Landor’s Cottage. A Pendant to Poe’s Last Story 1987, T11929, and Parsifal. Transformation Music (Act I) 1989, T11932, respectively). In works including How I Became a Ramblin’ Man 1999 (T12055) and Aberdeen 2000 (T12165), which date from the same period as Fishing on a Jetty, he draws on popular cultural references.
Of Fishing on a Jetty Graham has commented: ‘The shot is a typical Hitchcock joke. Taken out of context it appears as if Robie is facing the wrong way, because the water is behind him. Of course, the establishing shots tell us that he is sitting on a narrow jetty.’ (Quoted in Rodney Graham, 2004, p.132.) Graham has exchanged the Nice setting of the original for his native Vancouver, and has enhanced the scene’s appearance digitally. The artist has explained that the light has been altered ‘to make it look nicer’ (quoted in Rodney Graham, 2004, p.132).
Rodney Graham, exhibition catalogue, Whitechapel Art Gallery, London 2002, reproduced pp.106–7.
Rodney Graham: A Little Thought, exhibition catalogue, Vancouver Art Gallery, 2003.
Dorothea Zwirner, Rodney Graham, Cologne 2004, reproduced pp.134–5.