Jeff Wall

One image that instantly struck and become a source of inspiration for my continued development is A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai) 1993 (fig.1) created and captured by Jeff Wall.


I state created in that sentence in reference to Wall’s style of recreating, paying homage to or honouring moments he has witnessed or art his has seen within his images. Wall is known for, in some parts controversially, photographing meticulously constructed scenes, much in the way a Hollywood film creates everything we see from scratch rather than photographing the ‘real’. The example above is his homage to a Japanese woodcut, Travellers Caught in a Sudden breeze at Ejiri, ca. 1832 by Katsushika Hokusai (fig.2)


Whilst the clear influences are visible within Wall’s image, the scene has been recreated in a very western way, shot in Vancouver, Walls home, we see the differences in landscape, dress and objects. The image itself appears completely random and in the moment, yet it is composite of images taken over a 5 month period. Wall studied as a painter originally and this techniques of building the image from collage parts is typically much more in line with that field where one has the perceived freedom to create from nothing.

Wall’s work often reflect art pieces as with his image The Destroyed Room (fig.3)


This image has been attributed to being drawn from Death of Sardanapalus, Eugène DELACROIX (Charenton-Saint-Maurice (Val-de-Marne), 1798 – Paris, 1863) (fig.4)


In both images we see the use of red throughout the frame, a colour of passion and danger, affluence and excess. Whilst Wall’s image omits the bodies from the image this almost becomes the aftermath style of documentary photography capturing the remnants of Death of Saradanapalus.

Wall’s images are always engaging, I don’t always find that one is as good as the next but one cannot deny the technical ability and presentation skills on show in each frame. I feel his work is at its best when it takes the idea of photography as a modern painterly style medium and pushes it to the extreme. The commentary on the use of photography within the images such as with The destroyed Room and documentary or Milk (fig.5) and the Decisive Moment, are when he creates his best work.


Wall originally printed all his images to transparencies and backlit them in the same techniques used by advertising billboards that filled the streets on bus stops and shop fronts. this technique emphasises his cinematic style, emulating the effect of projection in giving the images an increased brightness and visibility as apposed to traditional print medium which relies on the reflection of light rather than light passing through. However he has moved to more traditional mediums in recent times as his work has darkened.

For my own work I look to take cues from Wall on the way he utilises every part of the frame, not necessarily filling it with redundant information but more in how nothing seems out of place, balanced and natural. I also enjoy the way he questions the use of photography as a medium, never hiding the fact he creates the images but rather perfecting the representation of the idea or event. Whilst I don’t necessarily agree that every image should be a painstakingly constructed tableau, in many ways this can rob the image of the spontaneity and emotion of a raw capture, I do feel that Wall walks the line very well in the majority of his images. I like the idea of modernising classical art, partly for a new audience but also to draw attention to the original pieces. The lit transparencies see to pop with life and detail, another reason for ensuring the images are pin perfect along with the sheer size of his prints often rivalling classical fine art in scope. I’ve often toyed with the idea of projection which is similar in ways, maintaining the cinematic but with the idea that the projection can place things where they do not belong. Finally I think the act of creating such elaborate and constructed images which appear ‘real’ would challenge the idea of surrealism in photography. Often people think of the weird and wonderful as constructs of surrealism but I find that in the medium of photography it becomes more about how within the real there are these strange occurrences among seemingly everyday scenes.


Fig.1 – Tate (s.d.) Jeff Wall born 1946. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).

Fig.2 – Jeff Wall (2020) In: Wikipedia. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).

Fig.3 – Jeff Wall (2018) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).

Fig.4 – The Death of Sardanapalus | Louvre Museum | Paris (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).

Fig.5 – Jeff Wall. Milk. 1984 | MoMA (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).


cube, W. (s.d.) White Cube – Artists – Jeff Wall. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).Jeff Wall (2018) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).Jeff Wall (2020) In: Wikipedia. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).Jeff Wall: ‘I’m haunted by the idea that my photography was all a big mistake’ | Photography | The Guardian (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).jeff-wall-after-invisible-man-by-ralph-ellison-the-prologue-1999-2001.jpg 1,200×834 pixels (s.d.) At: 12/06/2020).Tate (s.d.) Jeff Wall born 1946. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).The Death of Sardanapalus | Louvre Museum | Paris (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).The world of Jeff Wall | Photography | Agenda (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020). Tate (s.d.) ‘A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai)’, Jeff Wall, 1993. At: (Accessed 12/06/2020). Jeff Wall. Milk. 1984 | MoMA (s.d.) At: (Accessed 12/06/2020).

3 thoughts on “Jeff Wall

  1. I love Jeff Wall’s work and at one time tried to produce a homage picture in his style. But to be honest there is so much meaning in his work I gave up, it certainly wasn’t as easy as I initially thought. I recently bought a book called Jeff Wall Photographs 1978-2004, it was a book that went with a major exhibition of his work by the same name at the Tate, fascinating pictures that keep my attention.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I will have to have a look for that book. I agree with you on the homage, I think time, scale and cost all play a part in building images such as he does and it’s quite daunting. I’m just baby stepping my way through haha

      Liked by 1 person

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