Jeff Wall: room guide, room 9

In 1996, after about twenty years of working exclusively in colour, Wall turned to black-and-white photography, a medium traditionally associated with the documentary style. Though he continued to work with actors and collaborators, these photographs are marked by their casual, snapshot appearance. In them Wall challenges and reassesses ideas of photographic ‘authenticity’.

Jeff Wall Cyclist 1996

Jeff Wall Cyclist 1996Silver gelatin print 2290 x 3025 mmCinematographic photograph

Private collection, Munich© The artist

Jeff Wall Passerby 1996

Jeff Wall Passerby 1996Silver gelatin print 2500 x 3395 mmCinematographic photograph

Kunstmuseum Wolfsburg© The artist

Jeff Wall Night 2001

Jeff Wall Night 2001Silver gelatin print 2390 x 3015 mmCinematographic photograph

Olbricht Collection© The artist

Volunteer 1996

This picture was based on Wall’s observations of homeless shelters and similar facilities, but was shot on a set. The mural on the right-hand wall, a precise replica of one in an actual shelter, was painted for the photograph. It emphasises the potential in black-and-white photography for registering subtle gradations of tone. The man sweeping the floor appears absorbed in his task, in a mood and world of his own. The impression is of a chance glimpse into someone else’s life.

Jeff Wall Volunteer 1996

Jeff Wall Volunteer 1996Silver gelatin print 2215 x 3130 mmCinematographic photograph

Emanuel Hoffmann Foundation, permanent loan to the Öffentliche Kunstsammlung Basel © The artist

Citizen 1996

Even though black-and-white photographs like Citizen take Wall a week or a month to shoot, the result appears spontaneous. Wall has said of this work: ‘Citizen corresponds to something that is in the very nature of photography. Because it’s a photograph, what it depicts is instant; it represents a very brief moment – a split second. It is a moment of instant peace; it may vanish from one moment to the next’. Like most of Wall’s work, the photograph relates directly to the scale of the viewer’s body. We seem to be placed on the fringes of the park, at the bottom of the picture, a device that encourages us to feel both physically and almost voyeuristically involved.

Jeff Wall Citizen 1996

Jeff Wall Citizen 1996Silver gelatin print 1812 x 2340 mmCinematographic photograph

Kunstmuseum Basel© The artist

Jeff Wall Forest 2001

Jeff Wall Forest 2001Silver gelatin print 2400 x 3030 mmCinematographic photograph

The Verbund Collection, Vienna© The artist