Allan Sekula

1951 - 2013 Artist Writer Critic

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Allan Sekula was an influential artist, writer, and teacher. His works, including books, photographic sequences, written texts, slide sequences, and sound recordings, are among the most moving and incisive critiques of global capital from the latter half of the twentieth century.

Sekula was born in Eerie, Pennsylvania but soon moved to the Los Angeles port of San Pedro, a location that would prove highly influential on his work. He received his BA and MFA from UC San Diego where he studied with artists John Baldessari and David Antin. His early writings incisively critiqued the art world and contemporary photography, laying the foundation for a career-long resistance to the art apparatus’ potentially depoliticizing effects.

Sekula was an avid writers and his book length projects include PHOTOGRAPHY AGAINST THE GRAIN: ESSAYS AND PHOTO WORKS(1984), FISH STORY(1996), DISMAL SCIENCE (1999), PERFORMANCE UNDER WORKING CONDITIONS(2003), TITANIC’S WAKE (2003), POLONIA AND OTHER FABLES (2009). Of these projects Sekula’s wife Sally Stein has written: “(they)range thematically from critical investigations of the history of photography to studies of family life in the grip of the military-industrial complex, branching out into explorations of myths of national identity.”

He frequently used his works to explore the connections between capital, labor and place. Such works include FACING THE MUSIC, a critique of Los Angeles’ power elite. Sekula was wary of the Grand Avenue downtown revitalization project and sought to expose “the contradiction between the loudly trumpeted sphere of culture and the lurking presence of society with all its troubling and embarrassing problems.” Sekula’s other film’s include TSUKIJI (2001) a study of Tokyo’s bustling fish-market, A SHORT FILM FOR LAOS (2006-2007), an anthropological study of life and its composition, and THE FORGOTTEN SPACE (2010) which the New York Times called "unabashedly polemical and rigorously pessimistic, a sustained Marxian indictment of 21st-century capital." Sekula said the film “asks what we can make of the connection, or disconnection, between this sci-fi neo-baroque space of architecture and the space of the cargo container, linchpin of the global factory system.”

Allan Sekula died in August 2013, his life and work were celebrated two months later in a memorial at Calarts.

Scholar Ed Dimendberg has written:

“Allan Sekula is one of the most thoughtful historians, critics, and practitioners of photography working today. For more than three decades his images and writings have shifted the terms on which the medium is understood and has influenced a generation of artists and scholars. Whether articulating a semiotics of the photograph in his classic study Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photoworks 1973–1983 (1984) or investigating maritime space in the books and exhibitions comprising Fish Story (2002), Sekula is always in motion. His extensive travels to many of the world’s seaports are matched only by his enlightening journeys across history, politics, and aesthetics that through their consummate intelligence transform and connect domains usually considered separate.”

- Ed Dimendberg, BOMB MAGAZINE

[Contributor: Gamliel Wernick]