Research Point

Research Point 

Visit [Accessed: 24/02/14]. For a blog about Jeff Wall’s, Insomnia (1994). Interpret using some of the tools discussed above. 

Jeff Wall is a Canadian photographer, who was born in 1946. He graduated the University of British Columbia in 1970 with a Masters degree. Wall’s images were critical in the shift to view photography as art.

Deciphering an image can be challenging but is important for a photographer, there are several techniques to use. Looking at the denotation and connotation of the image is a start. Observing the obvious things in the image is known as denotation, but it doesn’t give the meaning of the things. This is where connotation comes in, as it refers to the associated meaning of the image. jeff-wall-insomnia

In 1994, Wall created the image, Insomnia. He created this image in reference to the quote ‘When a Prince doesn’t sleep well, a nation doesn’t either’. It is was staged and everything in the image was there for a reason, all of Wall’s images are set-up exactly how he wanted them and all have a deep meaning, that is not necessary seen at the first glance. Many of his images are hectic and seem to have a lot going on, whilst being quite claustrophobic in the picture. This image, along with others in the series was exhibited using large-scale backlit light boxes. This emphasizes his cinematic tendency seen in his work. Insomnia the image was displayed quite large, at 1722 x 2135mm. It drew attention being this large, and his unique display method would emphasize the image and make it memorable to the viewers.

I will start by looking at the denotation of the image. We can see straight away that this room represents a kitchen. We can see the fridge, the cooker, the sink, table and chairs, and cabinets, all features of a kitchen. The walls are a cream colour. The cupboards are teal. It has a feel of an old kitchen, something from the 1960s. It has a well-worn feel, which would support the age of the room; the style and age of the cooker and the fridge also support this. The appliance, though there are few of them, are all old even for when this image was created. This has led me to the conclusion that Wall wanted to create a sense of age in this image. There is a simple table in the center of the kitchen, with an ashtray and a saltshaker on it. Two mismatched chairs are also present, but are in an awkward position. There is a tea towel discarded on one of the chairs. There is washing up on the side of the sink, this reminds me of Shafran’s Washing Up series, mainly due to the location and the objects present. The kitchen light, which is illuminating the image, can be seen in the window as a reflection. It is dark outside, which supports the name of the image, as you wouldn’t have insomnia in the daytime. The cupboards are open and there is an open brown bag on top of the fridge, this suggests there has been a search, but the person hasn’t shut the doors, possibly a frantic search. There is a man lying on the floor. The look on his face is disturbing, he looks frantic and worried. The man brings ‘motion’ to what would be a still life image. These are the facts of the image.

The meaning goes a lot deeper. Even though it is a staged environment, it shows the psychological state of the man on the floor, which I believe is what Wall intends. The lighting is bright almost; in addition to the colours of the cupboards and walls it makes the room look sterile. The shadow created by the light that covers the man gives an eerie feel to the image. It has no warmth to it; it doesn’t feel like a home, which would provide safety and security. The search through the cupboards and brown bag could indicate that the man was searching for something to help him, to provide some comfort to which he was unsuccessful. The chairs have been positioned oddly, they could have been used in the search, for example to stand on, or has he moved them and left them out of desperation, not caring where they are. Then we come to the man himself. He is laying on the floor, which is unexpected, personally I wouldn’t think of someone with insomnia trying to sleep on a kitchen floor, maybe this represent the desperation which he has found himself in. This positioning could also relate to a struggle he is going through, psychically and mentally. He looks worried, something has lead him to behave in this way, what it is we don’t know, but all we can see is the effect it is having on him. He appears to be in a laxed featal position, which could mean he is looking for comfort and protection. I find the image quite busy, and I can’t seem to focus on one part of the image, the composition I find is causing this. There are a lot of vertical lines, but also horizontal lines, which don’t seem to lead anywhere; it keeps the viewer searching the image.

I find that Wall’s image has been taken at a point where it is showing the result of what has happened to this man, and doesn’t show us what exactly has happened, so it leaves it up to the viewer to make their own minds up. He stated that the point of his images are, “mid-way between the ‘Dialectic of Enlightenment’ and the ‘Society of the Spectacle’” (Wall). The subject of his images follow a narrative right up until the camera takes the picture.

Jeff Wall: Realism and Artifice. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

Dictionary. Connotation. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

Dictionary. Denotation. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

OCA. Beneath The Surface. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

Tate. Jeff Wall Photographs 1978-2004. [Online]. <’s-on/tate/modern/exhibition/jeff-wall> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

Tate. Jeff Wall: Room Guide, Room 6. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].

TLRU. Photographers you should know: Jeff Wall by Eugen Sakmenko. [Online]. <> [Accessed: 15th July 2016].


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