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REINVENTING DOCUMENTARY

:
THE ART OF ALLAN SEKULA

January 22 to March 15, 2015
Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art
Lewis & Clark College
Portland, Oregon

by taking its most base and vulnerable realization—an insight that Marx famously memorialized with the righteous cri de coeur “I am nothing but I should be everything”—and making it into the founda- Large and small disasters (Islas Cies and Bueu. skillful work. their nebulous union in the photographer-cum-proletarian points to the mettle and substance of his life’s work. Photography was the special site of his conflicted on the need that inspires “a humanism self-understanding—“Photographers are detail workers when they are of need. as the direct hold of every man not artists. and demands of proletarian life that are uniquely available to doc- umentary as a particular form of non-art. 10 11 . text requires two fundamental changes in how we experience ourselves as artists and art appreciators. it Black Tide 2002–3 20 Cibachrome prints in 10 frames. “and thus it is not unreasonable on all men. 12/20/02) Volunteer’s soup (Isla de Ons.” is how he put it at one point. in a nutshell. 1961 artfully introduce into the bourgeois domain of fine art the suffering. . there . His goal. 12/19/02) Exhausted volunteers (en route from Isla de Ons. to label photographers the ‘proletarians of creation. Allan Sekula was an artist who understood him- self to be a laborer. in- sight. In order for our understanding of art to open itself outward to the richness of the larger world made available to us by documentary. intelligent. TOWARD A HUMANISM OF WORK Blake Stimson In place of a class struggle founded More than anything else.’” 1 The surrepti- tious slippage in his phrasing that takes us from a stark opposition was a time when value was conferred between artists-as-free-agents and workers-as-dependent-cogs to by work—real. because such a project asks a lot from us. He reinvented documentary.” as happens today. . Sekula was furtive about his aim. 12/19/02) tion for a program of art. in other words. was to —Jean-Paul Sartre quoting himself.

in other words.”4 immediacy of need in concert with its potential to be realized through suffering. tending your own little garden while Painter/Photographer. The real struggle is to experience the York slum dwellers. These words and their 3 Sekula. are interlocking work: “a way of talking. We get a sense of one approach from the title for the heroic final took on this higher-order feeling in one way or another. we have to understand our roles as workers in the education. Maybe in Unloading frozen fish from the Malvinas. tell this story. Waiting for Tear Gas. “You see failure and blockages all around you.”2 Teacher and student alike. the 2010 film by Sekula and Noёl said not too long ago. he wrote that. 444. argued. skillful work”—is suggested Warhol. in other words.. design. by standing up for the “ism” in humanism as a righteous terms more than it performs the requisite labor. instead there are only images of people struggling to do things. hope. you know. for example. through work. or whatever industries—our “humanism of need” with its “direct hold of every man on all men. economics it’s similar to the turn to microeconomics. Sorting octopus. David Harvey. Dockers Looking. and Allan Sekula. ed. the promissory notes of the American Dream are rarely cashed in. But such immediacy of need the value conferred by “real. Puerto Pes. Self Portrait as Sculptor/ Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973–1983 (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art ad Design. of enlightenment.com/24394711 (accessed December 21. situations within feeling hopeless about their ability to . The examples are legion. April 20. part of ourselves that dreams of art in its best sense. Roberto When we sensitize ourselves sufficiently to this reality.” in Liz Wells. “The Song of Society Against the State. have become “industrial parks in which the creative spirit. At its best. of course. factual evidence of such becoming human—from machinelike recognition of another’s need harbor that are non-bourgeois. Sekula they can tell the big story anymore. 5 cogs in a machine not of their own making and beyond their control. 1 Allan Sekula quoting Bernard Edelman in “Reading an Archive: Photography Between Labour art out onto the fullness of the world it inhabits is only available. 2002). at the Cooper Union. art’s step up from documentary is not enough. 234. a righteous and indignant protest addressed to a par. bleeding heart.6 corresponding images bear the weight of society on their shoulders— 4 Sukhdev Sandhu. Sekula’s work tells us. he lamented. aimed first and foremost for Sartre’s realized. however. but call to mind almost any of (documentary) to childlike identification with that need (art) to adultlike think of ourselves as the “creative class” setting the stage for urban life autonomy but instead as a desperate form of faith or hope or charity the photographs by Jacob Riis—his Basement of a Pub in Mulberry-Bend collaboration in order to do something about it (work). He is the airy “creative class” roles. justice. Sekula’s resolute reply from another he insisted. still ‘lives. “On the Politics of Education and the Traffic in Photographs. 228. computer.’ Photographic education is largely system and lifeworld that he first turned to in School Is a Factory. that is. but instead are born of that part of us that toils in order to survive. http://www. 2 Sekula. The basis for this higher version of humanism’s “ism”— author of The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation and Citizen workaday “proletarians of creation”—to be in conflict with that truly higher tension with their mediation by systems. now brought to earth as those of way of understanding “our lives” as independent from and in a state of reminds us of. and no request that we share in their 6 Sekula speaking at “Forgotten Spaces.”3 Experiencing the conflict between art’s real promise of free macroeconomics. In this sense these pictures reach upward in a simple progression of Meza. 2014). with words and images about both the system seeking to be childlike was indeed right. Tending our own little gardens. The problem. and perspiration necessary to 2012. The Photography Reader (London: Routledge. entertainment. some. As the pictures in this exhibition attest.theguardian. song of the opera that Sekula imagined would complement his 2002 take Pablo Picasso’s Guernica as its zenith. His critique.” he form of blindness and suffering. but we might regress to the impotent experience of our own need or to piously iden- ideals of the Enlightenment. Photography Against the Grain. . Photography Against the Grain. understanding our own little needs. 2014). we have to sensitize ourselves to the fears and desires we all to experience the promise of art as neither a jaded reflection of our Documentary at its most direct is brute. they’re duction of our world through labor. but that is Is a Factory. a proletarian reality. In this sense Picasso’s oft-touted insight about art turn to its humanizing. “Allan Sekula: filming the forgotten resistance at sea. while the education system still but the logistics of how it might be realized are almost always less protest of conscience against that need. Notes reaches for the autonomy and personhood of being bourgeois.” Photography Against the which there [is] either an overt or active clash of interests and represen.” However. Burch. First. Art distinguishes itself from documentary by taking The great gift of Sekula’s legacy. that are not those we flaunt when we powerlessness nor an overweening sense of our precious difference or woeful need. We can see it in his titles alone: and Capital. Opening What we’re struggling with here is the big story. or charity—in the the brute facticity of human suffering and making it into a value and a a good way up this chain of being. more and more it has been rejiggered to con. of the infantilizing immediacy that comes with its mere recognition and directed at people who will become detail workers in one sense or thing that governed the self-portraiture at play in all of his subsequent entlike authority. away from quero. and our lives within the system. like approach was there in the old phenomenological contest between documentary’s base recognition. is that it takes us was able to do this himself by simply facing up to his own place as a teacher Modern art has always yearned for that faith. it is also an ignominious that need itself. tations. at a screening of The Forgotten Space. self-actualizing. and no one thinks he turns again and again to the nobility of the production and repro.” its need has to be complemented by the old humanism of work that Sartre Blake Stimson teaches at the University of Illinois.” Guardian.” Sekula’s work tells us. because it allows us to expe. it is a raised fist or a time reminds us that the only way to truly honor that need is to let go cosmetic shrubbery or Muzak. world-making mediation another. its humanism of Blake Stimson museum. if we want to change the world and have those needs Second.” work Black Tide.com/film/2012/apr/20/allan-sekula-resistance-at-sea (ac- rience ourselves as proletarians in a bourgeois dream and bourgeois in experiencing “our lives within the system. Chicago. and Park McArthur. tify with the wretched need of others are everywhere in the world we form to the ignoble drives of the capitalist economy: “art departments. among other publications. intelligent. All modern art worth its salt already leagues ahead of what we get anywhere else. Such experience “gives you a bitter sense that all only a genuine form of truth and empowerment. mechanics. x. for example. New York. not the least so in our art. is not provide for need—much more than they document or empathize with cessed December 21. There are no pictures of Spanish war victims or New 5 Sekula. In an essay accompanying his 1978–80 work School name of free personhood. Invitations to bears the residue of its foundational aim to realize the heroic humanist clear. 1984). Sekula frustrated by a routinely unjust world. everyone’s given up. at 3:00 am will do. filmed by Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen. personhood and its real reality of cog-like dependency is itself a form the whole earth is trembling. http://vimeo. by working “from within concrete life situations.” The same is that art’s Guernica-like protest is almost always as powerless as inhabit.” a conversation with Benjamin Buchloh. or collective self-determination— shared will. Dockers Listening. . As documentary-cum-art it sets the in the art economy. the burden of the logistics. 12 13 . we are able the mediating systems that govern it. May 2011. that part that was always only ever half the story: everywhere in Sekula’s oeuvre.

theguardian. Invitations to bears the residue of its foundational aim to realize the heroic humanist clear. tify with the wretched need of others are everywhere in the world we form to the ignoble drives of the capitalist economy: “art departments. everyone’s given up. Roberto When we sensitize ourselves sufficiently to this reality. bleeding heart. We can see it in his titles alone: and Capital. is that it takes us was able to do this himself by simply facing up to his own place as a teacher Modern art has always yearned for that faith. among other publications. As documentary-cum-art it sets the in the art economy. and Park McArthur. like approach was there in the old phenomenological contest between documentary’s base recognition. Maybe in Unloading frozen fish from the Malvinas. 1984). are interlocking work: “a way of talking. 444. he wrote that. self-actualizing. At its best. we are able the mediating systems that govern it. a righteous and indignant protest addressed to a par. and perspiration necessary to 2012. at a screening of The Forgotten Space. part of ourselves that dreams of art in its best sense. Sorting octopus. Sekula they can tell the big story anymore. we have to understand our roles as workers in the education. but instead are born of that part of us that toils in order to survive. at the Cooper Union. in other words. world-making mediation another. 2 Sekula. more and more it has been rejiggered to con.”3 Experiencing the conflict between art’s real promise of free macroeconomics.” in Liz Wells. it is a raised fist or a time reminds us that the only way to truly honor that need is to let go cosmetic shrubbery or Muzak. “You see failure and blockages all around you. But such immediacy of need the value conferred by “real. but we might regress to the impotent experience of our own need or to piously iden- ideals of the Enlightenment. art’s step up from documentary is not enough. its humanism of Blake Stimson museum. by standing up for the “ism” in humanism as a righteous terms more than it performs the requisite labor. 1 Allan Sekula quoting Bernard Edelman in “Reading an Archive: Photography Between Labour art out onto the fullness of the world it inhabits is only available. is not provide for need—much more than they document or empathize with cessed December 21. the 2010 film by Sekula and Noёl said not too long ago. All modern art worth its salt already leagues ahead of what we get anywhere else. Tending our own little gardens. however.” a conversation with Benjamin Buchloh. not the least so in our art. or charity—in the the brute facticity of human suffering and making it into a value and a a good way up this chain of being. David Harvey. Sekula’s work tells us.” Guardian. argued. 5 cogs in a machine not of their own making and beyond their control. instead there are only images of people struggling to do things. In this sense Picasso’s oft-touted insight about art turn to its humanizing. and our lives within the system. There are no pictures of Spanish war victims or New 5 Sekula. http://vimeo. Sekula’s resolute reply from another he insisted. http://www. factual evidence of such becoming human—from machinelike recognition of another’s need harbor that are non-bourgeois. The problem. mechanics. We get a sense of one approach from the title for the heroic final took on this higher-order feeling in one way or another. or whatever industries—our “humanism of need” with its “direct hold of every man on all men. with words and images about both the system seeking to be childlike was indeed right. a proletarian reality.com/film/2012/apr/20/allan-sekula-resistance-at-sea (ac- rience ourselves as proletarians in a bourgeois dream and bourgeois in experiencing “our lives within the system. and Allan Sekula. that part that was always only ever half the story: everywhere in Sekula’s oeuvre.”2 Teacher and student alike. Notes reaches for the autonomy and personhood of being bourgeois. 2014). Such experience “gives you a bitter sense that all only a genuine form of truth and empowerment. if we want to change the world and have those needs Second. but call to mind almost any of (documentary) to childlike identification with that need (art) to adultlike think of ourselves as the “creative class” setting the stage for urban life autonomy but instead as a desperate form of faith or hope or charity the photographs by Jacob Riis—his Basement of a Pub in Mulberry-Bend collaboration in order to do something about it (work).” work Black Tide.” Sekula’s work tells us. hope.”4 immediacy of need in concert with its potential to be realized through suffering. still ‘lives. intelligent. for example. and no one thinks he turns again and again to the nobility of the production and repro. have become “industrial parks in which the creative spirit. entertainment. of the infantilizing immediacy that comes with its mere recognition and directed at people who will become detail workers in one sense or thing that governed the self-portraiture at play in all of his subsequent entlike authority. but that is Is a Factory. at 3:00 am will do. May 2011. First. Self Portrait as Sculptor/ Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973–1983 (Halifax: Press of the Nova Scotia College of Art ad Design.” he form of blindness and suffering. filmed by Jacqueline Hoang Nguyen. aimed first and foremost for Sartre’s realized. skillful work”—is suggested Warhol. 234. in other words. away from quero. by working “from within concrete life situations. . computer. song of the opera that Sekula imagined would complement his 2002 take Pablo Picasso’s Guernica as its zenith.” its need has to be complemented by the old humanism of work that Sartre Blake Stimson teaches at the University of Illinois. the promissory notes of the American Dream are rarely cashed in. they’re duction of our world through labor. Dockers Listening. some. design. Photography Against the Grain. “On the Politics of Education and the Traffic in Photographs. tations. These words and their 3 Sekula. while the education system still but the logistics of how it might be realized are almost always less protest of conscience against that need. for example. As the pictures in this exhibition attest. “The Song of Society Against the State. personhood and its real reality of cog-like dependency is itself a form the whole earth is trembling. we have to sensitize ourselves to the fears and desires we all to experience the promise of art as neither a jaded reflection of our Documentary at its most direct is brute. April 20. understanding our own little needs. The examples are legion. through work. it is also an ignominious that need itself. you know. and no request that we share in their 6 Sekula speaking at “Forgotten Spaces. In this sense these pictures reach upward in a simple progression of Meza. Art distinguishes itself from documentary by taking The great gift of Sekula’s legacy. Chicago. economics it’s similar to the turn to microeconomics. x. or collective self-determination— shared will. that are not those we flaunt when we powerlessness nor an overweening sense of our precious difference or woeful need. . Burch.” The same is that art’s Guernica-like protest is almost always as powerless as inhabit. 2002).6 corresponding images bear the weight of society on their shoulders— 4 Sukhdev Sandhu. New York. ed. Puerto Pes. Waiting for Tear Gas. 12 13 . 228. justice. now brought to earth as those of way of understanding “our lives” as independent from and in a state of reminds us of. Photography Against the Grain. “Allan Sekula: filming the forgotten resistance at sea. He is the airy “creative class” roles. His critique. of course. The basis for this higher version of humanism’s “ism”— author of The Pivot of the World: Photography and Its Nation and Citizen workaday “proletarians of creation”—to be in conflict with that truly higher tension with their mediation by systems. 2014). situations within feeling hopeless about their ability to . Dockers Looking. tell this story.’ Photographic education is largely system and lifeworld that he first turned to in School Is a Factory. The real struggle is to experience the York slum dwellers. because it allows us to expe. tending your own little garden while Painter/Photographer. he lamented. of enlightenment.com/24394711 (accessed December 21.. The Photography Reader (London: Routledge. that is. Sekula frustrated by a routinely unjust world. the burden of the logistics. Opening What we’re struggling with here is the big story.” However. In an essay accompanying his 1978–80 work School name of free personhood.” Photography Against the which there [is] either an overt or active clash of interests and represen.

Ronna and Eric Hoffman Gallery of Contemporary Art Lewis & Clark College 0615 S.W. Oregon 97219 . Palatine Hill Road Portland.

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