Shipwreck and Workers

Shipwreck and Workers

Allan Sekula (born in 1951 in Erie, Pennsylvania, USA) is an author, photo historian, theoretician and critic. With his participation at documenta 11 he became known worldwide as one of the most important contemporary artists who deal critically with the economic, political, social and cultural changes in today's globalised information society. In addition, his projects circle a central issue of current photography: How can complex interactions in economic processes be made the subject of art and portrayed?

Since the 1970s Sekula has dealt with the "iconography of work" in extensive cycles of photographs. Sekula developed his specific highly politicised "social documentaries" out of the tradition of American social photography of the 1930s from photographers such as Dorothea Lange and Walker Evans and their lyrical-sentimental pictures. Sekula practises photography as a radical cultural practice, as a form of resistance that brings together culture and politics. Benjamin Buchloh commented on Sekula's convention of representation: "Documentarism is intended to be newly discovered in a way that differs both from the social democratic tradition as well as from artistic photography and from conceptual thought."

Transport is one of Sekula's favourite themes, especially shipping. People are photographed doing physical work AND predominantly in public contexts. Since the 1990s the sea has been the dominant thematic area. The "true" attitude of social photography, which shows the lower migration, industrial work and industrial conflicts, is replaced by Sekula with a subjectively loaded viewing relationship. Sekula creates "complicated" pictures which look simple on the surface but which document complex relationships through many levels being pushed together.

"Shipwreck and Workers" is part of a project-spanning reference system with which Allan Sekula links series of pictures, publications and texts. Thus, some pictures originate from the work "Titanic's Wake" from 2000. Sekula took photographs on the film set of the Hollywood production "Titanic", which was in the cheap labour country Mexico. Based on this material, Sekula wove his visual web and then some years later constructed a new story for Vienna: a dramatically tilted shipwreck in the harbour of Istanbul, goldsmiths behind the barred windows of their workshop, grape harvesters in Saché in France. That is where the American sculptor, Alexander Calder, had his studio, and it would not be Sekula if the man in the blue work overalls did not emerge as Calder's former sculpture builder, who now works in a metal factory in Tours. Other pictures show a ship inspector from the combative ("Battle of") Seattle, two seafarers from Limassol, Cyprus, a logger from Thilouze and an oil delivery man from Saché.

Sekula calmly plays out his repertoire: totals, details, group portraits, still-lifes, whole and half figures. He uses pairs of pictures which double motifs and slightly shift the content, a procedure which, with the portrayal of consecutive situations and various means of representation, makes clear the levels of communication between the protagonists as well as those between them and their observers. Captions explain the individual motifs and – together with the immensely colour-intensive photographs – commentary and poetic texts formulate a sociological picture of scenes of work and their disappearance.