Here, Wall extends the cinematic tendency in his work, creating claustrophobic and hermetic worlds of fantasy and strangeness. Literature and philosophy have been an important influence for Wall and two of these images refer directly to particular texts. He calls such pictures ‘accidents of reading’.
Odradek, Tàboritskà 8, Prague, 18 July 1994 1994
This work draws on Franz Kafka’s short story The Cares of a Family Man (1919), about a creature called Odradek, part wooden object, part living being, who lurks in the garrets, stairways, and lobbies of buildings, unknown to passers-by. Like Odradek, the invisible and the hidden are significant themes in Wall’s work, from abandoned and neglected places, to socially and politically invisible people.
The atmosphere of this photograph seems to oscillate between the foreboding of film noir and the familiarity of the everyday, the result perhaps of Wall’s deliberate blending of documentary-style photography with aspects of cinematography. ‘I can’t draw a sharp distinction between the prosaic and the spectral, between the factual and the fantastic, and by extension between the documentary and the imaginary,’ he has commented.
After ‘Invisible Man’ by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue 1999–2000
Ralph Ellison’s 1952 novel Invisible Man centres on a black man who, during a street riot, falls into a forgotten room in the cellar of a large apartment building in New York and decides to stay there, living hidden away. The novel begins with a description of the protagonist’s subterranean home, emphasising the ceiling covered with 1,369 illegally connected light bulbs. There is a parallel between the place of light in the novel and Wall’s own photographic practice. Ellison’s character declares: ‘Without light I am not only invisible, but formless as well.’ Wall’s use of a light source behind his pictures is a way of bringing his own ‘invisible’ subjects to the fore, so giving form to the overlooked in society.