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Jewish Cemetery
photograph, photography as fine art, cibachrome transparency, Canadian photographer, Canadian photography, loss, culture and loss, personal historical narrative, making the invisible visible, revealing, displaying a photograph with florescent light, popular culture influence on art, influence of the fine art world, art as more than what it seems, visual tension, narrative in art, photography shoots, hiring models in art, photo set-up, art accompanied artist textual narrative, finding photo subject matter, personal history in art, heaven and earth, drawing conclusions, the divine and the everyday, referencing the fine art world, Jacob van Ruisdael, contemporary art meets the fine art world, photography meets painting, planning a photograph, digital editing of a photograph, Holocaust, man's inhumanity to man, inhumanity, artist narrative, loss of a culture, juxtaposing quiet landscape and historical loss - holocaust, profound loss, engaging the viewer, moral judgment, drawing conclusions in art, exterior view, landscape photo, landscape, urban life, natural environment, point of view, , life and death, other-worldly, horizon line,

Wall combines ideas from  popular cultureLow (as opposed to high) culture, parts of which are known as kitsch and camp. With the increasing economic power of the middle- and lower-income populace since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution in the nineteenth century, artists created various new diversions to answer the needs of these groups. These have included pulp novels and comic books, film, television, advertising, "collectibles," and tract housing. These have taken the place among the bourgeois once taken among the aristocracy by literature, opera, theater, academic painting, sculpture, and architecture. But modernist artists rarely cultivated the popular success of these new cultural forms. Modernist works were little appreciated outside of a small elite. Life magazine's 1950s articles on the abstract expressionist Jackson Pollock (American, 1912-1956), and the silkscreened paintings by Andy Warhol (American, 1928?-1987) of soup cans and celebrities signaled unprecedented fusions between high and low art and the transition to the postmodern age. (  and advertising with his understandings of art and art history.  He looks to painters from the past and analyzes how they created their striking theatrical works, and then extrapolates from them to create his own outstanding  contemporaryCurrent, belonging to the same period of time. Usually referring to our present time, but can refer to being current with any specified time. (  work.  The  compositionArrangements of elements in a work of art.  and  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter for the Jewish Cemetery by Jeff Wall references the famous historical  paintingWorks of art made with paint on a surface. Often the surface, also called a support, is either a tightly stretched piece of canvas or a panel. How the ground (on which paint is applied) is prepared on the support depends greatly on the type of paint to be used. Paintings are usually intended to be placed in frames, and exhibited on walls, but there have been plenty of exceptions. Also, the act of painting, which may involve a wide range of techniques and materials, along with the artist's other concerns which effect the content of a work. (  by Jacob van Ruisdael known as The Jewish Cemetery circa 1657.

Wall work

Like many painters, Wall is interested in light and uses  florescentThe emission of electromagnetic radiation, especially of visible light, stimulated in a substance by the absorption of incident radiation and persisting only as long as the stimulating radiation is continued. Also, the property of emitting such radiation, or that radiation itself. Various things can be fluorescent, most commonly lamps in the form of tubes whose inner wall is coated with a material that fluoresces when an electric current causes a vapour within the tube to discharge electrons. Also see incandescence, infrared reflectography (IR) and reflectogram, kelvin, neon, radiograph, stroboscopic, ultraviolet, and x-ray. Florescent colours: Also called day-glo colours or DayGlo colours and neon colours, fluorescent colours are especially bright, clean materials which can be much brighter than conventional colours. They were first developed in the 1930s, finding their way into magic shows, stage shows, and movie posters. They contain certain dyes and resins that produce colours far brighter than traditional pigments, and that had the unique effect of "glowing" under ultraviolet or black light. Fluorescent colours are exceptionally bright under many different conditions, including indoor lighting, low light outdoors, and in limited visibility areas. Studies have shown that fluorescent colors are noticed first. They grab the attention of the observer. Fluorescent colors are widely used to get attention, focus attention on an object, warn people of a potentially hazardous situation, get an object, person or situation noticed, etc. They are commonly used for traffic cones, detergent packaging, tennis balls, fishing lures, etc., and can be found in a wide range of media, including oil and acrylic paints, inks, dyes, markers, crayons, etc. (  light to completely illuminate his images from behind.  Many painters use large-scale canvases to dwarf the viewer and to give the  illusionA deceptive or misleading image or idea. (  the viewer can enter into the image, and Wall often employs this sense of scale.  He wants to connect with his viewers, and he does this by carefully planning and staging his  imageryAn image is a picture, idea, or impression of a person, thing, or idea; or a mental picture of a person, thing, or idea. The word imagery refers to a group or body of related images. (  and his photo shoots.  Like many painters he can take weeks or months to shoot a single picture.

Since the development of computer technology in the 1990’s, Wall sometimes spends even more time digitally editing and altering his photographic images.  His work is further enhanced by the expert written documentation he uses to accompany his ideas and images.  Robert Enright writes, “I don’t mean to suggest that all of Wall’s images are gothic stories masquerading as  quotidianOccurring or returning daily; as, a quotidian fever. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  encounters or voluptuous narratives of excess hidden under what appears to be harmless social anecdotage.  What I do mean to emphasize is that they are always more - often prodigiously more - than what they seem.” (Enright, 2000)

start quoteI don't paint, but I began as a painter.end quote -- Jeff Wall

This can be noted in the quiet landscape photograph titled Jewish Cemetery displayed here.  The work could reference the holocaust, the historical account of the mass murder of the Jews by the Nazis during World War II.  Wall’s ancestors were Jewish and the artist, by his choice of  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter, could be recounting man’s inhumanity to man or be referring to the serious loss of a people and a culture.  Ideas related to the ignored or invisible in society are themes that are evident in other Wall photographs, and certainly can be of interest to Wall in this work.  Wall creates the image and hints at an idea or story but he doesn’t impose his own personal opinion or moral judgement; he leaves the viewer to draw his/her own conclusions or narrative. 

This work is one of a  seriesA number of things or events standing or succeeding in order, and connected by a like relation; sequence; order; course; a succession of things; as, a continuous series of calamitous events. (The Online Plain Text English Dictionary)  of works where Wall presented exterior views or landscapes.  In Jewish Cemetery, Wall sets the scene in  picturesqueIn general, this may refer to any scene which seems to be especially suitable for representation in a picture, especially that which is sublime. It is especially associated with an aesthetic mode formulated in the late eighteenth century which valued deliberate rusticity, irregularities of design, and even a cultivated pursuit of quaint or nostalgic forms. Such pictures became common in nineteenth century Europe and America. Examples can be found among the American painters of the Hudson River school — Thomas Cole (1801-1848), Jasper Cropsey (1823-1900), and Asher B. Durand (1796-1886) — and of the Rocky Mountain school — Albert Bierstadt (1830-1902) and Thomas Moran (1837-1926). (  Vancouver, on the perimeter where urban life and the natural environment meet.  People are evident but they are insignificant in the great expanse of the natural environment.  The point of view of the audience suggests an approach to the cemetery and the idea that all mortals will eventually reach this stage of life.  In the background the sky has an other-worldly glow at the horizon line, suggesting a portal between heaven and earth.

Wall work

Manufacturing is evident in the distance, and by this  juxtapositionCombining two or more objects that don’t usually go together to cause the viewer to consider both objects differently.  the artist could be suggesting ideas related to the divine and the everyday, or the effects of industry and rampant development on nature.  The strong  diagonalHaving a slanted direction. Any straight edge or line that is neither horizontal nor vertical is diagonal. A diagonal cut or fold of woven fabric is said to be "on the bias." (  in this work suggests unease and tension and could imply the vulnerability of the environment. In another photograph titled The Holocaust Memorial in the Jewish Cemetery, 1987, Wall included a bridge in the distance to further imply the crossing over from one place to another.

Traditionally the photographic artist documents society and records real situations.  Wall disregards that  traditionTradition is the passing along of a culture from generation to generation, especially orally. Or, a custom or set of customs handed down in this way. The idea of heritage is related to that of tradition. Any activity — as a pattern of celebration, ritual, or other behaviour, etc. — is traditional once it is a precedent influencing comparable activities in the future. (  and blurs any separation between photography and fine art.  He does not wait to come across the perfect shot; instead he formulates an idea and the  subjectA topic or idea represented in an art work.  matter, hires actors, and stages his own event.  In most cases, the viewer is well aware of the unreality represented because of the visual clues and the  surrealAn art movement in the early 20th century based on dreams, and the subconscious, and the distortion of representations.  qualities the photographs often display.

In some of Wall’s  imageryAn image is a picture, idea, or impression of a person, thing, or idea; or a mental picture of a person, thing, or idea. The word imagery refers to a group or body of related images. (  he recreates the impossible, in others he utilizes a sense of the bizarre, and in still others he leans toward  grotesqueSomething having a fantastically distorted appearance. Also, a style of painting, sculpture, and ornamentation used in antiquity in which natural forms and distorted figures are intertwined in bizarre or fanciful combinations, consisting of representations of medallions, sphinxes, foliage, and imaginary creatures. The grotesque is a powerful aesthetic category that combines ugliness and ornament, the bizarre and the ridiculous, the excessive and the unreal.  (  and dark humour.  As writer Penny Cousineau-Levine noted “[t]he world of Canadian photography is one where, as in Jeff Wall’s most well-known images, it is possible to picnic with the “undead“, for dead soldiers to talk, and for graves to be full of life.” (Cousineau-Levine, 2003)

additional resources Things to Think About
  • How do advertisements encourage consumers to do, see, or purchase something?  Find examples and discuss what you think are the most effective images and presentation.
  • Do some reading about Wall’s and other artists’ photographic works.  Can you see any references to death or entrapment in their works?
  • What might be some of the connections between “high” art and show business?  How do you think these connections happen?
Advanced Activity
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  • Find out more about an event from history or from your own life and use it as the impetus for an artwork.

  • On Reality 6: Mysteries of Photography. This website has materials/content that suggest activities related to photography and mystery and creativity, as well as many cultural/historical references.
Online Activity
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Go to the San Francisco Museum of Art’s website featuring Jeff Wall, at (Jeff Wall:  Works in Focus 1978-2004).  Explore the interactive activity designed there to gain further understandings about the ideas behind Wall’s work.

  • For example, there is an introduction on this first page that contains video material where Jeff Wall makes comments that give insight into his work. 

  • Also, you may go to the year tabs at the top of this first page, and click on each of them to see numerous photos (26 in total) showing unique ways to deconstruct the photos, learn more about the construction of the photo in question, and read historical references and commentary about the photos.


Studio Activity
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Creation by example

Writer Saman Muacchio states, “Wall avows that Manet, Degas, and Cezanne are obvious references for his work, to the point of having based some photographs on specific paintings. “

  • Think about an artwork you admire and use it as a jumping off point for your own work.

Photo montage

  • Take a number of photographs and digitally or manually reassemble the images into a photo montage.

Create a new reality

  • Create a new reality by over-sizing a person, animal, or thing and placing it within an unusual or unrelated environment.

Design an album cover

Wall’s 1978 photograph, The Destroyed Room was used as a cover for an album by The Sonic Youth, an  avant-gardeFrench for vanguard. Artists and their work which stand in the forefront of a movement or of new ideas, often in opposition to established ideas and traditions; art that's ahead of its time, innovative, experimental, heterodox. The modern era has invariably had a flourishing avant-garde, but many have said it is no longer possible in a postmodern era. The bourgeoisie, once alienated by the avant-garde, rarely question any longer the presentation of any avant-garde's productions by their public institutions. (  New York noise band.

  • Design an album cover using selected images within a staged photograph.

Combine opposites

  • Combine images of opposites in an artwork.
  • Some examples of opposites you might use include: beauty and ugliness; good and bad; real and unreal.  You will think of many others!

Ammann, Jean-Christopher. Fascination Illuminated in Jeff Wall’s Work.  Exhibition catalogue.  ICA, London, 1984.

Barents, Els.  ‘Typology, Luminescence, Freedom: Selections from a conversation with Jeff Wall,’ in Jeff Wall transparencies, New York: Rizzoli, 1987, p. 99.

Brougher, Kerry . Jeff Wall. Exhibition catalogue.  The Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, California, 1997.

Cheveier,  Jean-Francois.  Play, Drama, Enigma.  Exhibition catalogue.  The Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, Illinois, 1995.

Cousineau-Levine, Penny.  Faking Death:  Canadian Art Photography and the Canadian Imagination.  Montreal/Kingston:  McGill-Queens University Press. 2003.

Enright, Robert.  ‘The Consolation of Plausibility.’  Border Crossings, 2000, pp 39-51.
Howard, Cori.  ‘School’s Out.’  National Post, March 8, 2000.

Saman Muacchio.  ‘Paris.’  Galleries West, Fall/Winter, 2006, p21.

Wall, Jeff.  Jeff Wall: Installation of Faking Death[ 1977] The Destroyed Room [1978] Young Workers [1978] Picture for women [1979].  Exhibition catalogue.  Art Gallery of Greater Victoria, Victoria, British Columbia, Apr. 11-June 3, 1979.

Zaslove, Jerry.  Faking Nature and Reading History The Mindfulness Toward Reality in the Dialogical World of Jeff Wall’s Pictures.  Exhibition catalogue.  Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver, British Columbia, 1989.

Canadian Heritage University of Regina Mackenzie Art Gallery Mendel Art Gallery Sask Learning