You don’t need a fancy title when you’re dealing with one of the biggest names in contemporary art photography. Jeff Wall Photographs is a major new exhibition at the NGV, which brings Wall’s celebrated works to Australian audiences at long last.
According to the show’s curator Isobel Crombie, Wall is considered the ‘father’ of staged photography. “There is no doubt that Wall has had a profound impact on other photographers and it is widely believed that his imposing practice has played a major role in helping establish photography at the forefront of contemporary art.”
Wall chose which works would be included in the exhibition and how they would be arranged, explains Crombie, “so the show reflects his own views on those moments that he considers some of the most important in his career.” It charts the development of Wall’s practice from his first lightbox work to well-known ‘classics’ like “A sudden gust of wind (after Hokusai), but Crombie says there are also plenty of surprises for those familiar with his work.
The show explores the two major strands of Wall’s practice. The most well-known is his creation of highly cinematic, large scale tableaux of modern life, which have been meticulously staged for the camera with the aide of actors and props. The other, says Crombie, are more documentary in style, “small-scale, thoughtful observations” of what he calls the “obscure, unswept corners of everyday life”.
Part of the reason we’ve not seen more of Wall in Australia, says Crombie, “is probably the sheer scale of the undertaking – the works are extremely large and the complexities of bringing it to Australia are considerable. It is hard to say if a show this large will come to this country again, so now is the moment to visit!”