Allan Sekula had a remarkable, indomitable spirit. For over two years, from the first word that his body could not be repaired, he fought against the inevitable with inner strength and grace. At first he continued to travel for his work, then his many collaborators traveled to him so that several projects could move forward. He lost weight and he lost energy, but he never lost that keen eye and sharp mind that saw so clearly what was wrong with this world. Hospitalized again after suffering a massive hemorrhage, he finally gave up the struggle on Saturday, August 10.
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.
From the beginning he was concerned with the numbing regime of the punch-card, but over the past two decades expanded his frame to encompass the contemporary maritime world, the complex trading routes of international shipping lines and the vast oceans on which they ply their trade. This epic project grew from a relatively conventional Fish Story (1989-1995), with its didactic arrangements of photographs and texts, to “The Forgotten Space” (2010), the extraordinary film he made with Noel Burch.
The website for the film, which includes essays and photographs, as well as a trailer that allows us once again to hear Allan’s voice, can be found at http://www.theforgottenspace.net.
The image above is from a part of Fish Story, and is titled Dismal Science: Part 1. Middle Passage. Mid-Atlantic, November 1993.