The pictures shown here span a range of techniques, from the straight photography of Clipped Branches, and ‘near documentary’ of Fieldwork, to the fully staged ‘cinematographic’ approach of The Flooded Grave.
Clipped Branches, East Cordova St., Vancouver 1999
Unlike his complex, staged works, Clipped Branches is a documentary photograph. The image appears like a close-up from a film, or a detail borrowed from a larger scene. The effect is to extract the subject from its surroundings, so that the work also becomes a formal exploration of vertical and diagonal lines. This is enhanced by the camera angle: in contrast to the frontal approach generally favoured in the larger compositions, Wall’s still life and documentary photographs employ more dynamic angles and techniques.
The Flooded Grave 1998–2000
Wall described the ‘event’ of this work as ‘a moment in a cemetery. The viewer might imagine a walk on a rainy day. He or she stops before a flooded hole and gazes into it and for some reason imagines the ocean bottom. We see the instant of that fantasy, and in another instant it will be gone.’ The Flooded Grave was completed over a two-year period, and photographed at two different cemeteries in Vancouver as well as on a set in the artist’s studio. It was constructed as a digital montage from around 75 different images.
Fieldwork takes Wall’s notion of ‘near documentary’ a step closer to documentary photography proper. He arranged to photograph this archaeological dig as it took place at a site near Vancouver. The American anthropologist and his colleague weren’t acting; instead, Wall photographed them daily as they went about their work over a period of three or four weeks, believing that they would become accustomed to his presence and ignore the camera. As the title indicates, the anthropologist is accompanied and observed by a member of the native tribe whose long-abandoned dwelling is being excavated.