Arbutus Corridor, 2009Stephen Waddell
Arbutus Corridor, 2009
Stephen Waddell
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Off the Radar: Jeff Wall Puts the Spotlight on Stephen Waddell

Nov 25, 2014

In a new series called Off the Radar, LightBox asks celebrated photographers to write about image makers whose work they admire yet may be unknown to a wider audience. Here, Canadian artist Jeff Wall presents the work of the "undervalued" photographer Stephen Waddell.

Stephen Waddell has been working for more than 15 years in painting and photography. He’s been exhibited widely, and has a following among some discerning collectors. Yet, he remains not very well known. He’s often not included in survey exhibitions of current trends or forms or developments in photography, and he continues to be under-appreciated. As they say today, he’s an “undervalued” artist.

Waddell’s work is characterized by a consistent sobriety of treatment related to his beginnings as a painter and his interest in the classic moderns such as Manet and Cézanne, who revolutionized not only the manner of painting but the things to be painted, to which attention ought to be paid.

These painters worked against the conventionalized rhetorical treatment of scenes, figures and event, bringing forward the seemingly smaller or constrained event-structure of the everyday. Some of this, they learned from photography, some they taught to photographers

Stephen Waddell places himself in the lineage, the tradition of this non-rhetorical treatment, this search for the evanescent gesture or event that without apparently containing anything likely to be successful, nevertheless becomes a picture through the aptitude, judgment, persistence and quickness of the man with the camera.

Even though he also works in black-and-white, he’s an outstanding colorist and has a rich, physical feeling for color as can be seen in the ensembles of pictures such as Man in Car, Powell St., with its palette of exhausted blacks, browns, burgundies, and greys; or Kudamm (2009) which includes just about the entire spectrum, but so delicately observed and balanced it seems there are far fewer colors than there in fact are; Chimney sweep, with its perfect balance of blue sky, red roof, green tree, black suit, and the face that seems to partake of each of those colors; and even Rope Untangler (2013), where blue and orange set each other off on the frontal plane of the color relationships and seem to dominate the composition until green sets itself off suddenly against both orange and blue – and this is just the coloristic aspect of this remarkably unusual and interesting composition glimpsed and captured in the moment it took the untangler to raise an elbow.

The photographers best known for their color work—such as William Eggleston, Stephen Shore, or more recently Elad Lassry, all have a unique personal palette through which we often recognize their pictures. Waddell’s pictures also have this color-character, which is the mark of a specific and highly individuated view of the world.

Jeff Wall is an Canadian artist who is best known for his large-scale images and art history writing.

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