Allan Sekula (February 21, 1996)

Margaret Crawford introduces Allan Sekula, characterizing him as a photographer working in opposition to contemporary photography. Instead of focusing on the politics of the signifier, his work is about the signification of politics. He has exhibited around the world, and published beside Fish Story, the book Photography against the Grain.

Allan Sekula describes the history and politics of ports, harbors and dockworkers over the course of the twentieth century. Some of the most significant strikes around the world in the 1920s and 1930s involved port workers. After World War II, ports were automated, and ships acquired “flags of convenience” so that that the labor could be outsourced and exploited. This coincided with the atrophy of the American shipbuilding industry, and the ascendancy of foreign maritime industries, such as Korea’s.

Sekula describes some of the stories behind photographs in his book Fish Stories. His photographs document artifacts of the death of the shipbuilding industry in America. These physical artifacts document the corporate world’s decision to disown America in search of less regulation, less liability and higher profits.

Sekula recounts his trip across the Atlantic aboard the Sealand Quality. He recounts the origin and history of the ship. This leads him to Korea, where the ship was manufactured. He finds social injustice and exploitation in the burgeoning shipbuilding business.

Sekula answers the audience’s questions. He admits perceiving the shipping world through his American background. Sekula argues that sailors, due to the nature of their occupation, tend to be internationally minded and knowledgeable about different cultures. He discusses the idea of truth in documentary photography.

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