Literature13 Sep 2008 08:39 am
(After “Invisible Man” by Jeff Wall)
One of the most influential photographers working in the world today is Jeff Wall. His photographs are extremely large, back-lit “cibachrome” works (basically, extremely large slides). More importantly, they are images of elaborately set-up scenarios: an apartment that looks like it was destroyed in a hurricane or earthquake, a “conversation” among dead troops in World War II, the restoration of an enormous mural. But one of Wall’s greatest works draws its imagery directly from Ralph Ellison’s Invisible Man.
In the preface to Invisible Man, the unnamed narrator describes an unusual project he has embarked upon. In order to take something back from the society that has taken so much from him, the narrator is fighting a war against Monopolated Light & Power. More specifically, he is stealing electricity in order to illuminate his basement hovel with 1,369 light bulbs. A lot has been said and written about what Ellison is trying to express here, but Wall took a very different approach. He simply recreated the scene in perfect detail, and took the photograph above. More than any work of literary criticism, Wall’s photograph demonstrates just how radical and surrealist Ellison’s imagery is. Reread the book with Wall’s photos in mind, and you’ll find hundreds more images like it.
Wall’s After “Ralph Ellison”, and dozens of other works by him, are currently on exhibit at the Art Institute of Chicago. View the “online exhibition” here.
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