Saturday, 17 August 2013

Allan Sekula, 1951 - 2013

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, still from The Forgotten Space, 2010
Allan Sekula died on 10 August 2013.
Photographer and filmmaker, Allan Sekula practiced a form of critical realism. His work was marked by a consistent preoccupation with politics and economics and a firm commitment to a practice with a socially critical purpose: he saw photography as having a “special aptitude for depicting economic life, for what used to be called ‘documentary’, and for an affinity between documentary and democracy.” 
He cared nothing for the debates about photography’s status as art but was clear sighted about the ‘art world’ which he described as: 
“a small sector of culture in general, but an important one. It is, among other things, the illuminated luxury-goods tip of the commodity iceberg. The art world is the most complicit fabrication workshop for the compensatory dreams of financial elites who have nothing else to dream about but a ‘subjectivity' they have successfully killed within themselves."
Significant works include Untitled Slide Sequence (1972), Fish Story (1988-94) and (with Noël Burch) The Forgotten Space (2010).
Allan Sekula, Untitled Slide Sequence, 1972
Untitled Slide Sequence (1972) could be seen as a take on both documentary and street photography – but one that is at some distance from the contemporary work of Winogrand or Friedlander. The work consists of 25 images of workers leaving the General Dynamics Convair Division aerospace plant at the end of their shift. The work comprises every shot Sekula took until stopped by company officials. The images were shown as projected 35mm slides: “The rhythm of the slide projector is the rhythm of the automated factory, but the individual frame individuates both the photographer and the subject."

The container box is the unlikely focus of Fish Story (1988-94) as well as the film, developed out of that project, The Forgotten Space (2010).

Allan Sekula, "Doomed Fishing Village of Ilsan, September 1993", from Fish Story 1989–95
Allan Sekula, "Welder’s Booth in Bankrupt Todd Shipyard, Two Years After Closing, Los Angeles Harbor, San Pedro, California. July 1991", from Fish Story, 1989–95
Allan Sekula, “’Pancake’, a former shipyard sandblaster, scavenging copper from a waterfront scrapyard, Los Angeles harbour, Terminal Island, California” from Fish Story, 1989–95
As Jennifer Burris notes, the invention of the container in the 1950s revolutionised shipping and brought profound social and economic consequences: the rise of the super-ship and the super-port reduced the required workforce, and the contrivance of registering ships under a ‘flag of convenience’ allowed a deregulation of international labour markets which allowed "labour conditions to remain at standards set in the nineteenth century". Fish Story examines this story in 7 chapters of image and text.

The Forgotten Space (2010) "showcases the maritime world as the ultimate ‘forgotten space’ of global capitalism".

Allan Sekula and Noël Burch, stills from The Forgotten Space, 2010
"The Forgotten Space follows container cargo aboard ships, barges, trains and trucks, listening to workers, engineers, planners, politicians, and those marginalised by the global transport system. We visit displaced farmers and villagers in Holland and Belgium, underpaid truck drivers in Los Angeles, seafarers aboard mega-ships shuttling between Asia and Europe, and factory workers in China, whose low wages are the fragile key to the whole puzzle."
Following his death, Thomas Lawson wrote, 
"As a writer, Allan described with great clarity and passion what photography can, and must do: document the facts of social relations while opening a more metaphoric space to allow viewers the idea that things could be different. And as a photographer he set out to do just that. He laid bare the ugliness of exploitation, but showed us the beauty of the ordinary; of ordinary, working people in ordinary, unremarkable places doing ordinary, everyday things. And, like the rigorous old-style leftist that he was, he infused that beauty with a deep sense of morality."
Jennifer Burris (2011) "Material Existence: Allan Sekula's Forgotten Space", Afterall
Edward Dimendberg (2005) "Allan Sekula", Bomb
Bill Roberts (2012) "Production in View: Allan Sekula's Fish Story and the Thawing of Postmodernism", Tate Papers, Issue 18
Sukhdev Sandhu (2012) "Allan Sekula: Filming the Forgotten Resistance at Sea", The Guardian

No comments:

Post a Comment