Here, Wall extends the cinematic tendency in his work, creating claustrophobic and hermetic worlds of fantasy and strangeness. Literature and philosophy have been an important influence for Wall and two of these images refer directly to particular texts. He calls such pictures ‘accidents of reading’.

Jeff Wall A ventriloquist at a birthday party in October 1947 1990

Jeff Wall
A ventriloquist at a birthday party in October 1947
1990
Transparency in lightbox 2290 x 3520 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Collection of the artist. Courtesy Marian Goodman Gallery, New York
© The artist

Odradek, Tàboritskà 8, Prague, 18 July 1994 1994

This work draws on Franz Kafka’s short story The Cares of a Family Man (1919), about a creature called Odradek, part wooden object, part living being, who lurks in the garrets, stairways, and lobbies of buildings, unknown to passers-by. Like Odradek, the invisible and the hidden are significant themes in Wall’s work, from abandoned and neglected places, to socially and politically invisible people.

The atmosphere of this photograph seems to oscillate between the foreboding of film noir and the familiarity of the everyday, the result perhaps of Wall’s deliberate blending of documentary-style photography with aspects of cinematography. ‘I can’t draw a sharp distinction between the prosaic and the spectral, between the factual and the fantastic, and by extension between the documentary and the imaginary,’ he has commented.

Jeff Wall Odradek, Táboritská 8, Prague, 18 July 1994 1994

Jeff Wall
Odradek, Táboritská 8, Prague, 18 July 1994
1994
Transparency in lightbox 2290 x 2890 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Museum für Moderne Kunst, Frankfurt am Main. Acquired with funds of the Stadt Frankfurt am Main, the Hessischen Kulturstiftung and a donation by Dr. Karl-Heinz Heuer, Frankfurt am Main
© The artist

After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 19992000

Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man centres on a black man who, during a street riot, falls into a forgotten room in the cellar of a large apartment building in New York and decides to stay there, living hidden away. The novel begins with a description of the protagonist’s subterranean home, emphasising the ceiling covered with 1,369 illegally connected light bulbs. There is a parallel between the place of light in the novel and Wall’s own photographic practice. Ellison’s character declares: ‘Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well.’ Wall’s use of a light source behind his pictures is a way of bringing his own ‘invisible’ subjects to the fore, so giving form to the overlooked in society.

Jeff Wall After 'Invisible Man' by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999–2000

Jeff Wall
After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue
1999–2000
Transparency in lightbox 1740 x 2505 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, on permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel

© The artist

Jeff Wall Insomnia 1994

Jeff Wall
Insomnia
1994
Transparency in lightbox 1722 x 2135 mm
Cinematographic photograph

Hamburger Kunsthalle, Hamburg
© The artist