Jeff Wall (1979) Picture for Women [A1/ office at night revisions]

— one of the references for exploring further what is contained in the material that formed the first assignment.

As my tutor points out: it is a retaking of Edouard Manet’s (1982) A Bar at the Folies-Bergère and its complex viewpoints. The multiplicity of the gaze is the one that my tutor picked up from the digital montages of the initial submission.

The Courtauld website points towards a series of themes: the bar as site for drinking and meeting prostitutes, described by a contemporary as ‘umixed joy’. The sternness of the central figures expression does not match that description (and also sits at odds with the bustle visible in the mirror behind her. Also: we, as viewer, stand in the place of a man depicted solely in reflection. That the reflection of his face and her back is skewed, shifted too far to the right, is one of the points for discussion.

Jeff Wall’s remaking of the bar scene moves the setting into either a classroom, a dance studio or another, not quite defined, space. Again, we can assume there is a mirror, through which we see the whole scene. In the dead centre of it, a large format camera. A woman to our left, a man, identified as Wall himself to the right, looking at the woman (or, perhaps more precisely, her back). We see it is nighttime: the window front in the back shows a dark outside, overhead are several bare light bulbs. The woman stands still, seems to look at herself in reflection (or indeed at us?), Walls seems to be suspended in a walking movement, is he holding something in his hand?

It is a place of activity, foremost: that of the making of a photograph; i.e. it is the workplace of a photographer (Wall), and still, what else is going here? Is she model? As women at that time in such a space would be. Knowing the origin in Manet’s painting, I realise that I am asking myself too as to what the sexual relationship between the two are. Is there one? Is my wondering intended?

Campany, in the short video clip about the book he published on this single work also relates Wall’s work to Hitchcock’s voyeurism, and outlines the circumstance that this was a large-scale back-lit gallery installation, not a photograph as print. Also: a single work, not a series or a body of work.

[I have ordered the book and will take a closer read of this, as I realise that the Office at Night will remain an ongoing project beyond the remits of this module and assignment