The Destroyed Room, Jeff Wall (1978)

I was introduced to Jeff Wall’s photography by a friend who took me to a Jeff Wall exhibition. Before that I’ve never been keen on photography but what I saw there completely changed my mind.
Jeff Wall’s approach to photography drinks a lot from historical paintings but it is also quite cinematographic. He carefully constructs the scenario inside the studio with clear references to paintings.
The Destroyed Room was shot in 1978 shortly after his wife had left him for another man. At the very first look I would say this scenario is incredibly violent as if the character was deeply angry and out of control. Jeff stated he used his wife’s clothes: “I borrowed her clothes because we were still on good terms and she had the good clothes”. It is not that hard to picture an angry man focusing all of his anger on his absent wife’s possessions, even the mattress were they used to sleep side by side was not left behind.
But look again, there are at least two elements that suggest a deep passion and caring and those are obviously the red walls and the ballerina that was left untouchable or carefully placed on top that piece of furniture.
The painting referenced in this Jeff’s photograph is Delacroix’s The Death of Sardanapalus in which a megalomaniac king feeling his death coming closer decides to destroy all of his possessions resulting in an intense and violent scenario.

Trivia: this photography was also used as a cover for Sonic Youth’s compilation album The Destroyed Room: B-sides and Rarities released in 2006.

The Destroyed Room by Jeff Wall

The Death of Sardanapalus by Delacroix

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