Jeff Wall is no maker of snapshots. His way of working makes use of a dilated form of time. His pictures are slowly and meticulously being constructed into works that can be seen both as references to classical figurative painting and as photograms from a film whose director, as sometimes happens, places enormous emphasis on framing and photography. In the earliest stages of his uvre, Jeff Wall was weighing up not only formal questions but also a whole series of others, having to do with his relationship with landscape and territory and with the physical presence of the person who produces a photographic image of them.
The Old Prison (1987) is a luminous image, a colour photograph that differs from its traditional equivalents in that it is presented as a transparency in an aluminium lightbox. This is a panoramic view of a vast territory, taken from an elevated point of view and offering an infinity of detail and information; and yet, for the viewer, this landscape stretching further than the eye can see, remains totally elusive as it is vast.
Mark Lewis, who has a substantial photographic uvre to his credit, has also, since the 1990s, been making films he describes collectively as “cinema in parts”. Far removed from any story and with no declared narrative intention, his filmed moments come to us as meticulously composed sequences of images whose slow tracking shots take place in utter silence. In his work we find the reference to painting and its photographic transposition; using an approach that has something in common with Jeff Wall’s, he carefully chooses and marks out his zone of operations and painstakingly prepares the filming, bringing extreme precision to his calculation of the camera’s movement, the unfolding of the panorama, and angle, distance and focus. The result is 35 mm films he then transfers onto video.
Algonquin Park (September 2001) is basically a static shot of a lake in the state of Ontario, Canada. There we see an island that appears only when the fog lifts. The camera does not budge and not a sound is heard; the only movement is that of the slow shifting of the fog. This quasi-immobility imposes a kind of alertness on the eye and all the senses, at the same time as it holds them in a state of suspense receptive to beauty.
In each case – the conveying of fixed and moving images – the artists seem first and foremost to be encouraging us to take the time to look.
Curators: Laetitia Talbot and Muriel Toulemonde.
Exhibition organised by the National School of Photography, Arles.