… someone is pretending to be everyone, or to be anonymous …
This is from ‘Arielle Pelenc in Correspondence with Jeff Wall‘ found in Jeff Wall: Selected Essays and Interviews (2007):
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Jeff Wall: One of the problems I have with my pictures is that, since they are constructed, since they are what I call “cinematographic,” you can get the feeling that the construction contains everything, that there is no “outside” to it, the way there is with photography in general. In the aesthetic of art photography as it was inspired by photojournalism, the image is clearly a fragment of a greater whole which itself can never be experienced directly.
[line break added] The fragment then, somehow, makes that whole visible or comprehensible, maybe through a complex typology of gestures, objects, mods, and so on. But, there is an “outside” to the picture, and that outside weighs down on the picture, demanding significance from it. The rest of the world remains unseen, but present, with its demand to be expressed or signified in, or as, a fragment of itself.
… Journalistic photography developed by emphasizing the fragmentary nature of the image, and in doing so reflected on the special new conditions created by the advent of the camera. So this kind of photography emphasized and even exaggerated the sense of the “outside” through its insistence on itself as fragment.
[line break added] I accept the fact that a photographic image must be a fragment, in a way that a painting by Raphael never is, but at the same time I don’t think that therefore photography’s aesthetic identity is simply rooted in this fragmentary quality. In the history of photography itself there has obviously been a continuous treatment of the picture as a whole construction.
[line break added] This has often been criticized as the influence of painting on photography, an influence that photography has to throw off in order to realize its own unique properties. But in my view, photography’s unique properties are contradictory. Imitation of the problematic completeness of the “naturalistic Baroque” is one of them.
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JW: … The violence you see in my pictures is social violence. Milk or No derived from things I had seen on the street. My practice has been to reject the role of witness or journalist, of “photographer,” which in my view objectifies the subject of the picture by masking the impulses and feelings of the picture-maker. The poetics of the “productivity” of my work has been in the stagecraft and pictorial composition — what I call the “cinematography.”
[line break added] This I hope makes it evident that the theme has been subjectivized, has been depicted, reconfigured according to my feelings and my literacy. That is why I think there is no “referent” for these images, as such. They do not refer to a condition or moment that needs to have existed historically or socially; they make visible something peculiar to me.
Jeff Wall, No, 1983
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JW: … The beauty of photography is rooted in the great collage which everyday life is, a combination of absolutely concrete and specific things created by no one and everyone, all of which becomes available once it is unified into a picture. There is a “voice” there, but it cannot be attributed to an author or a speaker, not even to the photographer.
[line break added] Cinematography takes this over from photography, but makes it a question of authorship again. Someone is now responsible for the mise-en-scène, and that someone is pretending to be everyone, or to be anonymous, in so far as the scene is “lifelike,” and in so far as the picture resembles a photograph. Cinematography is something very like ventriloquism.