Jeff Wall, ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’ 1993
Jeff Wall
A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993
© Jeff Wall

Jeff Wall was born in Canada in 1946. In 1977 he began making carefully composed, backlit Cibachrome transparencies. Since 1991 he has used digital technology to produce panoramic photographs, often making reference to well-known works of art. He lives and works in Vancouver.

Jeff Wall’s luminous photographs combine historic and contemporary forms to picture the social realities of modern life. They owe their scale and composition to the language of painting, often reconstructing specific images from the past, while their narrative drama draws on the conventions of cinema.

A Sudden Gust of Wind was inspired by a woodcut print - one of thirty-six views of Fuji - by the nineteenth-century Japanese artist Hokusai. In this contemporary landscape Wall replaces Mount Fuji with a high-rise, and the windswept peasants with builders and surveyors. Nature is shown as an immutable force, capable of transforming our most ambitious projects into comedy. The wind spins the figures into baroque contortions, their documents flying through the air with the autumn leaves. A winding river that recalls classical Arcadian scenes, comes to a dead end, compounding the bleakness of the site. Although the image appears to capture a single moment, it was staged using actors and digitally synthesised from separate photographs taken over a five-month period.

Sharing a border with the richest country in the world, the slums of Tijuana, Mexico provide the location for another drama. The Calle Valentin Gomez Farias, a street grandly named after a Mexican President, flanks a cascade of rubble, echoing the ravines and waterfalls typical of nineteenth-century landscapes. Its rearing perspective provides the backdrop for a duel between a dog and a chicken, two domesticated animals reverting to a feral state in this man-made wilderness.