Pictures like poems.

Jeff Wall, Overpass.

In an interview with Jeff Wall he states that people rather than look at photographs they look into them, and that this shift of attention causes the viewer to realize that they are looking at something and not through it. The viewer wants to understand ‘what is in them’ along with ‘what’s going on’, akin to reading poetry. Wall also states that people may get frustrated if they are having difficulty in reading the image, certainly interesting as I do feel that I have been in this position myself. Not understanding or not being able to read the photograph image can be very frustrating, and may ultimately make the viewer just move along. So this ability to read a photographic image is the key.

This interview with Wall struck a few chords with me as he goes on to talk about photographs being accompanied by lots of verbal description, and therefore people think that photographs are simple due to that. When the description is taken away, one has no choice but to relate to it as you would a poem.

Wall also mentions his ability to observe, and a ‘photographic seeing’, this is really interesting as I definitely approach my work this way. In ‘Overpass’ a reconstructed piece of work in which after seeing a group of people walking with bags Wall was driven to reconstruct the scene with other people. The ability to observe in the first instance led to this later work. I like Wall’s reference to the white truck, which he deliberately waited for, you can see that it balances the photograph. This photographic reading is quite clear to see in this image, from the dark cloud to the people, the bags, the lines on the sidewalk, and the industrial vents to the white truck. So we read this while our eyes travel the space within the frame, we may do this quite quickly, only to travel the surface again to confirm what we have seen, a truly poetic image.

‘Jeff Wall: Pictures Like Poems’. 2016. Context and Narrative [online]. Available at: [accessed 27 Apr 2020].

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