Take away the verbal description –

— and you’ll have to relate to the picture as a poem

2014-05-06 08.24.55

an image of an image:

Jeff Wall: After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, 1999-2000

(my image is shot at the exhibition Jeff Wall: Tableaux, Pictures, Photographs 1996-2013 at Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, which I visited in the spring of 2014)

In the following video you will hear det Canadian master photographer Jeff Wall say: Take away the verbal description and you’ll have to relate to the picture as a poem. It’s an interesting statement – not least read in relation to one of Wall’s most famous images: After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue from 1999/2000.

Jeff Wall based this elaborately staged photograph on Ralph Ellison’s prologue for his 1952 novel Invisible Man. In the novel we meet an unnamed narrator, an African American man, who lives secretly in my hole in the basement [where] there are exactly 1,369 lights, powered by stolen electricity. Some visual details in Wall’s image are taken directly from the prologue, some are drawn from other parts of Ellison’s book — others from the artist’s imagination. Wall has referred to his inspiration for this photograph as an “accident of reading.”

One can, I believe, relate to After “Invisible Man” by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue both as a visual comment on, or interpretation of, Ellison’s book — and, especially if one has no knowledge of Ellison’s work — se Wall’s picture as (just like Wall encourage us to do in the video) a poem in itself.


Throughout his career Wall has consistently sought new ways of picture making, expanding the possibilities of the photographic medium. Beginning with large format colour transparencies in the late 1970s, he introduced black and white images into his work in 1996 and then colour prints from 2007 onwards. His work explores both documentary and staged modes of photography in order to represent the wide spectrum of modern life, from seemingly mundane details to larger complex tableaux.


4 thoughts on “Take away the verbal description –

  1. Well. Gee. I always thought that pictures were wordless and the poems I liked the best were the ones that were like pictures. They’d leave subtle impressions, slip into the mind under the radar of narration, the constant filing system of linear purposefulness, and grow into eyes of knowing lining our skulls.
    😉

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