When I first discovered Wall’s work and was quite new still to photography, I missed the point entirely not realising what was going on. I realised with time that he was using a particular approach to narrative that was based on things that he had seen or experienced that he later re-enacted or staged. This to me was a revelation at the time.
As documentary pieces they might fall into what Stott talks about a ‘personal documents’ (Stott, 1973)  which are more subjective and about the individuals perceptions as opposed to any attempt to realise an objective narrative about a state of affairs. In general, I have been reflecting on this theme over the duration of several years. One of the questions that comes to mind again and again is: Does the photo have a universal application or significance or is it something idiosyncratic and particular to this particular photographer? Does it speak about a bigger issue that goes beyond the photographer’s limited human experience? This is what stands the test I feel, for wether the subjective approach to documentary really communicates. Party by temperament I am more interested in the global than the local of a person’s one off experience. So as documents, I feel that Wall’s work do stand the text and provide a coherent set of reflections about issues that are contemporary and universal.
In many cases it seems to me that photography offers a look at the issues, but perhaps as yet not so much directs itself to the solutions of global, social and interpersonal issues.
- Stott, W. Documentay expression and thirties America (1973) New York Oxford University Press.