A Certain Quotient of Unauthorized Excitement

Arthur Lubow: “The history of photography is stocked with precedents [of photomontages], dating back to its earliest days. You think there is something new about seamless photomontages? In the 1850s, Oscar Gustave Rejlander and Henry Peach Robinson made elaborate composites from multiple negatives. Or staged tableaux? Hippolyte Bayard depicted himself as a drowned man in 1840, and photographers have been staging such shots ever since, with F. Holland Day’s hammy impersonation of Christ at the end of the 19th century anteceding Wall’s more restrained performance in the role. Yet the use of photomontage and the staged tableau seemed fresh to Wall, [Ian] Wallace and their friends because they were using these techniques in the self-reflexive Modernist spirit of their age. Their versions were patent contrivances, calling attention to their artificiality.”

Peter Schjeldahl: “It may be enough to know that, in theory-drunk circles of the period, any sort of aesthetic appeal could be regarded as a stratagem of “late capitalist” ideology or some other wrinkle of malign social power. (The enemy’s identity was never entirely clear.) Artists were obliged to signal knowingness on this score. If critical paranoia poisoned visual and imaginative pleasure, that was unavoidable: a toll of enlightened consciousness. A lot of preachily condescending work resulted, and Wall was not exempt. But a certain quotient of unauthorized excitement, in “wow” effects of what amounts to single-frame cinematography, always set him a bit apart, as did a restlessly experimental drive.”

Both articles via the Flickr Vancouver group discussion on Jeff Wall.