Before I saw the image, I was presented with the title – ‘Picture for Women’. This title placed any number of prejudices, ideas and impressions in my mind. Was it going to be political, divisive even, separating women from men? Can this picture only be appreciated by women, or is it more interesting to men because they are told it is only for women? Maybe the photograph would interest men as when you say ‘Picture for Women’ you can almost here ‘Picture of Women’. Inversely, I then think – Is there ‘Picture for Men’ or ‘Picture of Men’ or perhaps it is all contained in this one piece?
On viewing the photograph, I am immediately taken to the promise of 80′s engineering. The steel piping, the fat light-bulbs, metallic chairs and bold radiators. I am taken back to my Dad’ first place of work (a postal sorting office in Preston) – industrial, green, grey and heavy. Structure and function without any of the design. It is a scene from Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy.
The picture itself, at first glance, appears like any picture anyone could have taken. Not particularly professional, not well staged, and not overly compelling to look at. The camera in the centre of the photograph changes this initial feeling of underwhelmed. You wonder why the camera is in the centre and how exactly has the picture been taken; was it captured using a separate camera pointing at the scene or simply a mirror reflecting the image back to the lens?
The lines in the two vertical poles create an odd effect as they cut the image into three distinct sections, separating the female subject from the male subject. The pair seem disconnected from each other, almost unaware of each others presence. The lines continue across the photograph from the horizontal corrugation in the ceiling to the lines on the desk, floor, brick and piping. There is a lot of texture in this photograph.
The photograph appears to show some of the feminine confidence and equality between sexes that grew in the 80′s. The ladies appearance of denim jeans and functional top suggests work. The ear-rings maintain a touch of femininity, but again the ladies hair is up to suggest her ability to operate within a manufacturing styled working environment.
The male subject looks almost confused by this change in woman. How does he communicate with her, work with her, love her? Or is he now disconnected in a separate scene never to be joined.
The female subject looks to be in thought, confident, but maybe confused, wishing to appear attractive, but then holding back the smile.
The shot is taken. The women is lit. The man not. I wonder why? What is that trying to say? What is any of the image trying to say? Although amateurish on first glance, it has been carefully crafted. Carefully staged. I wonder why? Why is everything positioned as it is and why this location?
A quick search on Google offers the following results:
- Many of Jeff Wall’s pictures are staged and refer to the history of art and philosophical problems of representation.
- ‘Picture for Women’ was inspired by the painter Édouard Manet.
- In Manet’s painting, a barmaid gazes out of frame, observed by a shadowy male figure. The figures are similarly reflected in a mirror in Jeff Wall’s piece, and the woman has the absorbed gaze and posture of Manet’s barmaid, while the man is the artist himself.
- The reflection creates a complex web of viewpoints.
- The image marks the transition of photography as an art form from the printed page to the gallery wall.
- The photograph captures the original tensions played out between male artist and female model.
- The seam running down the middle of the photograph is apparent in some of Wall’s large-scale pictures, where two pieces of transparency are joined.
- Jeff Wall does not photograph, initially. He keeps an image in mind. A memory, and then recreates this dream life reflection through a photograph.