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stephen connor

I had a look yesterday at the Times's slide show of Wall's work. For a guy who says he doesn't want to create boring photographs, he does a pretty good job of doing just that. They're technically terrific, no doubt about that, but they're also the definition of soulless.

Keep photographing the real world, Doug. It's much, much more interesting, and you're good at it.

Mike C.

How interesting -- I was letting off steam on this very subject over on Alec Soth's blog earlier today: the comparison with genre painting struck me, too. It's a sign of getting old, I suppose, when the very thing that makes you recoil is the same thing that attracts the Young Folk ("You're not going out dressed like THAT??").

As you say, this is everything "straight" C20 photography was reacting against ("Let's pretend" and naked women in trees being "The Spirit of Whatever"). However, it's actually the "conceptual" angle that baffles me (I *love* the bit about Wall checking out his gallerists' critical worthiness) -- I can't take seriously a lecture about how my faulty perception of reality is propping up global capitalism from anyone asking a decade's wages for one picture ...

This is a good blog, btw -- like most people on most blogs, I'm sure, I visit regularly but without commenting (until now!); I simply like the way you seem to run your life. Thanks.

Tim Connor

I read the Times piece & was also struck by the certainty with which the writer claimed this was now the gold standard for photography. I had never had any reaction except puzzlement to the Wall images I had seen online & in magazines, so I went to MOMA (I live in Brooklyn) to see them the way they were meant to be seen.

And indeed they are techinally impressive. If only for the notion of creating lightboxes for the wall, he deserves a lot of credit. But big & detailed as they are the images are still bloodless & bland. I understand that the boredom is deliberate, a way of signaling that we shouldn't be dazzled by subject matter or all the machinery of illusionism. Just as, when he creates "story" pictures -- an eviction in a neighborhood, say -- he's deliberately cheesy, campy, a B movie quality that says, This isn't real; it's a construct; I know it & now you know I know it. Or when he photographs the most mundane corner of a garden & deliberately overexposes in harsh midday light, as though to say, You thought you were going to enjoy some sensuality, huh? Well, even in the august sanctum of MOMA's top floor gallery, I was thinking, "Yeah, but I already knew that. Don't you have anything for my senses? Don't you have anything for my heart?"

To be fair, the guy is all over the place & I guess it indicates a willingness to try new approaches. And his later work does correspond to the part in the Times piece where he talks about his growing "affection" for the world. Several of the works -- an exterior of a nightclub with kids milling around & one lovely image of two women in a living room with a view of a harbor, e.g. -- have some real human attraction. You actually want to know more about the people in the story (yes, I know they're not real). So...he seems to be moving in a promising direction (from my point of view).

I guess the real question is not, is Jeff Wall any good? He's certainly good. The question is why is this method, the photograph as a record of fearsome theoretical ratiocination & obsessive compulsive process, showered with money & renown while work that interacts with the real world is pushed to the outer darkness?

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