Sunday, April 25, 2010

Mimic (photography post #1)

Although race relations is a major theme in Jeff Wall's Mimic (1982), another issue that it brings to the discussion is that of natural photography vs. staged photography. By 'natural', I mean a photograph without any choreography, a spontaneous image that captures a truly human moment. Does a photo have any less value because the artist controlled the situation with an exact vision, or is the message of a piece more important? I've always been more intrigued by photographs that aren't choreographed, pictures that show a truly human moment that couldn't be recreated (I've always had a big problem with the 'say cheese' style photos in which the subject puts on a face or pose). I'm not sure that Jeff Wall's photograph would be any more or less powerful if he had the chance to capture the moment that 'Mimic' was based on, the message is still there, but knowing that this image was intricately set-up to Wall's vision makes me somewhat uncomfortable as a viewer. We know that these people are actors, we know that the racist guy probably isn't racist and that the asian man probably isn't offended. We know that the time of day was specificly chosen and that the ignorant girlfriend was casted for the role. For me, this does steal away a bit of the effect of the piece, but without taking anything away from Wall's message about co-existing races in a city. That being said, if I wasn't informed that this photograph was choreographed and designed to look this way, I would have assumed that it was a naturally spontaneous photo capturing an (all too common) moment of racism in our city. It is to Wall's credit and talent that he could witness a moment like this and reimagine it through his lens, but I'll always sway more in the direction of natural photography and 'real' moments.

1 comment:

  1. Pure documentary with 'real' moments rarely exists. Foucault's panopticon is an example of how people act differently when being watched. If you're a photographer a critical role is interacting with people and simply asking or directing a smile constructs a scene. So I think Wall's working in that space of constructing a photograph between almost real to complete contrived.