Outburst Jeff Wall, Outburst, 1989.

Jeff Wall


Chosen by: Henry Mah


“My first contact with Jeff’s work was studying photography at Emily Carr in the early 90′s. I had read about him in books and heard the instructors talk about his process.

My first real experience in viewing the work first hand was a show at the Vancouver Art Gallery soon after. The piece was called Outburst and it was a depiction of a clothing factory with Chinese garment workers, with the boss expressing his dissatisfaction with one of the employees. I remember standing there being overwhelmed and transfixed by the scope and detail of this image. This photograph resonated with me on very different levels, in that I had an uncle who very much resembled the gentleman in the photo, and who had no control over his emotions and would often have these outbursts. The stance, the hairstyle, physical build and facial expressions were almost identical. The other part was the condition of Chinese Canadians who wanted to find jobs here in Canada. The trade of garment workers and factory conditions are inherent in my culture and ancestry. This scene could easily depict a sweat shop in East Vancouver or one in Hong Kong and China. Until this time, I hadn’t even seen an art photograph depicting Chinese people, let alone in such detail.

I have been blessed in my photographic career to have assisted with Jeff for over 7 years. I can honestly say that he is by far the most detail-oriented person I have ever worked with in any trade. I have been on shoots and production that have lasted over a year. I don’t know any photographer who spends this amount of time to make one photograph. It’s even more astounding that in the lightbox series, only two prints are made of each image that is released for public consumption. This includes all galleries and private collections.

In Jeff’s inner circle, his subject matter really is what he views in his daily life. The studio is in an area that he often draws on for his subject matter, and the staff who work with him are multicultural. He might be an internationally known photographer, but it is undoubtedly the case that he is a Canadian and, even more so, a Vancouver-based artist.”


Jeff Wall, Outburst, 1989. Transparency in lightbox. Collection of the Vancouver Art Gallery, Vancouver Art Gallery Acquisition Fund.

Henry Mah is one of thousands of people who follows the Gallery on Facebook.

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