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’.
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.
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.