Paul Greenfield MFA, ARPS

Jeff Wall (1946)

The Giant © 1994 Jeff Wall

Diagonal Composition 1993

Jeffrey Wall, OC, RSA is a Canadian artist best known for his large-scale back-lit cibachrome photographs and art history writing. Wall has been a key figure in Vancouver's art scene since the early-1970s. Early in his career, he helped define the Vancouver School and he has published essays on the work of his colleagues and fellow Vancouverites Rodney Graham, Ken Lum, and Ian Wallace. His photographic tableaux often take Vancouver's mixture of natural beauty, urban decay and postmodern and industrial featurelessness as their backdrop.

An extract from my essay "Have the prosperous baby boomers changed photographic representations of the elderly?"
Jeff Wall’s “The Giant”  depicts a modified image of an aged nude female in a university library, which is mounted in a small frame to increase the feeling of size. The female appears almost unaware of her nudity, despite her age.

This might be “A visual pun as it were: a condensation of growing old, which is figured as maturing (growing in size) and getting older” (Cristofovici 2009 p.23). The younger (and smaller) visitors to the student library seem to indicate that having an older nude in their midst isn’t out of the ordinary. However, stereotypes abound and confuse the reviews – Richard Vine describes the model as a: “geriatric amazon” who “somewhat withered in her extremities, retains a powerfully sexual torso and breasts, suggestive both of the physical losses that accrue with age and of the erotic self-identity which may nevertheless stubbornly persist” (Vine 1996 p91).

Should Wall have chosen an image with a less sensual physique, or did he succumb to the prevailing trends?

“Today, we are bombarded by images of women every day—in entertainment, in advertising, in art, on social media—but depictions of women who are visibly ageing remain too rare. Stranger still, women whom we know to have aged are often made to appear as if they have not suspended in a state of quixotic youthfulness, verging on the bionic” (Flower 2017). Or is Wall’s Giant another example of “the double standard of ageing” (Sontag 1979) and would the physique of a male model have caused Vine to refer to “time’s insidious devastations of the flesh” (Vine 1996 p91)?
Back to Top