A View from an Apartment is a colour photograph displayed as a transparency in a lightbox that measures almost two and a half metres in length and over a metre and a half in height. It shows a domestic interior with two casually dressed female occupants. The space, decorated in muted colours, is comfortably and conventionally furnished as a sitting room with sofa, chairs and tables. An ironing board, a television set, vases of flowers, piles of magazines and a half-consumed pot of tea are amongst the paraphernalia of everyday life contained within it. One of the women, apparently caught in the midst of household chores, walks from the ironing board towards a laundry basket. Her companion slumps on the sofa reading a magazine. However, the room is dominated by the large, rectangular window behind them and the exterior scene beyond that. This combination of inside and outside produces two pictorial worlds in one image.
The view framed by the large window seems to be the one to which the work’s title calls attention. It offers a panorama of the port of Vancouver, the city in which Wall lives and works, and shows multi-windowed low rise buildings, a stretch of waterway and a row of industrial cranes which appear like a vivid red armature partially obscuring the tall buildings of the city’s skyline in the far distance. Whilst the minute detail of the enclosed space contrasts with the vast urban scene beyond it, pronounced vertical and horizontal lines created inside are echoed in the network of lines that make up the scene outside.
Wall’s output prior to A View from an Apartment includes a number of images of interiors, of which some, such as Jell-0 1995 and Volunteer 1996, have domestic subjects (reproduced in Jeff Wall: The Complete Edition, London 2009, pp.60–1 and pp.102–3, respectively). ‘View from an Apartment began ... by the recognition that most of the interiors I’ve photographed are quite closed in’, the artist has said. ‘I don’t like to repeat myself and so I wanted to do an interior that was open, that included an outside.’ (Quoted in Wagstaff, p.43.) Having selected the location, Wall asked one of the models to furnish the apartment and to live in it as if it were her own. The scene was photographed between May 2004 and March 2005 and the resulting images were then combined. The finished work’s clarity and the consistency of light levels in the interior and exterior portions of the composition were achieved by digitally enhancing the image during the post-production process.
A View from an Apartment demonstrates Wall’s meticulous attention to detail and his preoccupation with endowing apparently everyday subjects with a sense of the cinematographic. His arrangement of colours, textures and patterns – in which frames predominate – emphasises the pictorial structure of the image. The resulting scene suggests a narrative captured midway through. Wall has commented:
When you’re looking at a picture you are feeling that you are really seeing something, seeing it in a way you can’t see it in the world itself ... [B]ut it is more interesting to depict something in a way that the viewer feels he or she is really seeing, but at the same time suggest that something significant isn’t being seen – that the act of picturing creates an unseen as well as a seen.
(Quoted in Wagstaff, p.43.)
Tate’s A View from an Apartment is the second in an edition of two plus one artist’s proof.
Craig Burnett, Jeff Wall, London 2005, reproduced pp.112–3.
Vincent Honoré and Kate Paul, Jeff Wall: Photographs 1978–2004, exhibition guide, Tate Modern, London 2005, reproduced on front cover.
Sheena Wagstaff, ‘Beyond the Threshold,’ Tate ETC, no.4, Summer 2005, pp.40–5, reproduced pp.40–1.
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