Jeff Wall // Milk, 1984
What do I see?
A man looking away,wearing no socks, bursting milk, tense hand on knee, sitting outside a building. The building looks clean and fresh - unlike the man sitting out front. Brick wall, reflective window, small hedge, strong shadows from direct light from the left hand side of the frame. Tension. Action and Movement. Questions that arise, 'Why is this man sitting here?', 'Why is his milk bursting?', 'Is he angry?', 'What is going on?'.
What camera and compositional techniques have been used?
Rule of Thirds
The rule of thirds is slightly wider than normal but it is still very present.
This image is filled with triangles. Whether the artist intended it or not (I'm going to assume that it was intentional given the staged nature of the work). This first and most clear example forms the structural integrity for the composition. The straight pillar meeting the angle of the human subject.
This smaller triangle from the top of his head, to his crunching hand and reaching out to the frozen splash of milk mirrors the larger triangle and sits inside it.
Here you can see the triangles created by the human subject's body. His posture has created many triangles including the one above. This way of placing the subject has added to the feeling of movement and tension in the image.
Sharp defined shadows mixed with shadows cast from a high angle. Potentially there is more than one light source being used to create this image other than the sun, or there is another structure adding to the slight shadow which I have noted above. Also the darkness of the interior in the background suggests another structure.
Our gentleman fits the bill of the foreground meanwhile the main 'background' of this image is the brickwall with the furthest away subject being the inside of the building. This layered approach turns what could have been a flat image if the left horizontal third was cropped out into a piece with depth.
How does this image make me feel?
Empowered and uncomfortable. The freeze frame of the milk suggests either this was a miraculous shot or a staged image (which knowing some of Jeff Wall's work you know it is). But the question of why this image has been captured isn't answered quickly on even the first, second or third view. The bright colours give a hopeful feeling while the look on the man's face is uncomfortable and potentially even in pain. This complexity is confusing and while there is a magical feeling about freezing the milk, I really have no idea at first glance what is going on.
What ideas do I think the photographer is working with here?
The fringe of society. The juxtaposition of the clean building with a moment of violence. The veil of happiness in bright colours and fresh buildings mixed with the reality of someone sitting on the ground outside it making a mess. I think the photographer is experimenting with fast shutter - capturing a minute moment in time, depth - having the furthest distance in the image to the side of the frame.
Who took the photo and why?
Jeff Wall - an incident the artist saw and then recreated. It is a continuation of images taken in the street of people during 'micro-gestures' - gestures that seem automatic and habitual. Wall doesn't like his work to become predictable and attempts to do something different in each of his works.
What is their ethnicity and does this influence the work?
Canadian Photographer - trained in the 60s and early 70s. Wall started out as a painter and then moved towards photography. He is careful and methodical in his style is almost jokingly how someone might joke about a stereotypical Canadian but really I how no idea if this is true.
When and where did they take this photo?
I'm not sure on the answer here as it's difficult to find answers about this photo in particular (in books and on the internet).
What are their political beliefs and are these relevant to the work?
Couldn't find the answers to this one, therefore if it is relevant to the artist and the work it isn't apparent.
What is is their social status and background and how does this relate to their subject matter?
Wall spends much of his time in so called 'cheaper' neighbourhoods where his studios have been located, these locations help to leave him open to being part of and seeing the margins of society.
In what decade or century was the the work taken? Does this influence your reading of this work?
1980s - the style of the work means it could have been taken at any point in the past 40 years. The image seems timeless.
Were there events happening at the time that may have influenced this work?
Taken as the world was coming out of a global recession and moving in to an era when wealth and luxury was very much celebrated. Wall goes against the the upcoming trend and sheds light on the edges of a frustrated society. From what I have read, there is an importance placed on the capture of 'liquid' via the camera shutter - something thing that can not be done with the human eye. The form liquid creates when it is frozen is powerful and impossible.
How is the work presented?
Transparency in lightbox 1870 x 2290 mm
Wall's choice to present his work in light boxes mimics commercial advertisements and brings the illuminated image into a gallery setting.
Where are you viewing this work and how does this affect your reading of it?
In a book of Wall's work and on a computer screen. I would like to see this image as it is meant to be seen, in a lightbox in a gallery. The image in the book isn't as clear as the ones on the computer screen.