Photographers You Should Know: Jeff Wall by Eugen Sakhnenko

Canadian photographer Jeff Wall is largely responsible for shifting photography to being accepted as a true art form, equal to painting and sculpture. As a result of his deep knowledge of art history and theory his work is rich in meaning and is meticulously constructed. His large back-lit photographs have influenced many generations of photographers and sell for seven figure prices.

The Big Deal: Having studied art history academically, Jeff Wall came to photography with a high-art frame of mind. His breakthrough came when he started producing elaborately staged, extremely large photographs and displayed them as backlit transparencies. The idea for this way of working came to him from seeing the attention holding power of bus shelter ads. Through a combination of scale, construction, and historical reference Wall’s work was looked at through the lens of traditional “art” rather than just photography – something that was extremely uncommon at the time.

Life In Brief: Born in Vancouver, BC, Canada in 1946, Wall received his Masters of Arts from the University of British Columbia in 1970. He started creating art work in 1977 and has held various teaching positions at the Nova Scotia College of Art and Design, Simon Fraser University, and the University of British Columbia. He has also published many essays on art and theory. In 2006 he was made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Canada and in 2007 he became an Officer of the Order of Canada. The MOMA held a large retrospective of Wall’s work in 2007.

Trivia Tidbit: In 1996 Wall was given Bernd Becher’s teaching position at the famed Dusseldorf Academy of Art. His classes were so popular that many students were turned down. One of these confronted Wall with a loaded gun – Wall immediately resigned and moved back to Canada.

The Destroyed Room, 1978

The Picture for Women, 1979
Mimic, 1982

Milk, 1984
The Storyteller, 1986

 The Crooked Path, 1991

Dead Troops Talk (A Vision After an Ambush of a Red Army Patrol, near Moqor, Afghanistan, winter 1986), 1992

A Sudden Gust of Wind (after Hokusai), 1993

Insomnia, 1994

Passerby, 1996

Volunteer, 1996

The Flooded Grave, 1998-2000

After "Invisible Man" by Ralph Ellison, the Prologue, 1999-2000 

For More:
New York Times - The Luminist
Wikipedia – Jeff Wall

Eugen Sakhnenko is a Toronto-based freelance photographer and the co-creator of the Knock Twice blog, which is where a version of this post originally appeared. It's is an online resource to assist and inform budding creative professionals. You can visit Knock Twice here.


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