Allan Sekula, 1951-2013 (East of Borneo)

Allan Sekula, 1951-2013 (East of Borneo).

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

The image above is from a part of Fish Story, and is titled Dismal Science: Part 1. Middle Passage. Mid-Atlantic, November 1993.


Florida early voting starts this weekend!

While the general election happens on November 6, registered Florida voters can vote early so there’s no conflict with classes or work. Here are the details for Tallahassee:

SATURDAY October 27, 2012 to SATURDAY November 3, 2012

7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Saturday – Saturday
Leon County Courthouse Rotunda
7:00 am – 7:00 pm
Saturday – Saturday
Northeast Library, Woodville Community Library,
Eastside Library and Ft. Braden Library

Here is the voter guide for the national, state, and local elections. Vote early and be counted. If you don’t vote in an election then you are essentially letting someone else, with possibly wildly different believes than you, vote for you. Don’t let that happen.

Stallman: Facebook IS Mass Surveillance

“Free software literally gives you freedom in the area of computing. It means that you can control your computing. It means that the users individually and collectively have control over their computing. And in particular it means they can protect themselves from the malicious features that are likely to be in proprietary software,”

“Facebook does massive surveillance. If there is a ‘like’ button in a page, Facebook knows who visited that page. And it can get IP address of the computer visiting the page even if the person is not a Facebook user. So you visit several pages that have ‘like’ button and Facebook knows that you visited all of those, even if it doesn’t really know who you are.”

—Richard Stallman

Watch video

Censor the internet (bookmarklet)

With all the jabber and laws trying to control what people see on the web it’s a good time to point out this script by Greg Leuch and Now you too can censor the internet with the Ctl+F’d Bookmarklet.

Thank God For an Artist Who Thinks Art Isn’t Just About ‘Big Power’

What a sweet rant this is…

It isn’t the kind of joke that actually makes you laugh, but the visual arts world isn’t all that good at making people laugh. The visual arts world likes to use words like “interrogate” and “notion” and “question”, which other people think are embarrassing art-school clichés, but which it seems to think are piercing poetic truths. It also seems to think that you can “interrogate” and “question” the values of a culture – its obsession with celebrity, say, or marketing, or hype — while also getting, and keeping, and eating, an awful lot of cake.

Read more in: Thank God For an Artist Who Thinks Art Isn’t Just About ‘Big Power’ by Christina Patterson

Free market fail: Pay-to-play groups ripping off artists?

Here is an unsolicited email I received this week from someone who “likes” my work and wants me to submit to her art publication. By “submit” she means send images of my artwork for the International Contemporary Masters to consider for inclusion. Upon further research I have found her organization is in the business of charging artists into submission. How much you ask? Try nearly $1000 for a single page. Have plenty of money laying around? You can purchase six pages for almost $3500, or the front cover for $9800!!! Here’s the email:

Subject: International Contemporary Masters Volume 6
Date: 	 October 5, 2011 3:09:52 PM EDT

Dear Owen

I visited your portfolio and I liked your work, so I would like
to invite you to submit art for inclusion in Volume VI of
"International Contemporary Masters”, a leading juried annual art
publication presenting noteworthy artists from all over the world.

Please note that this is not a free inclusion and we encourage
artists to seek sponsors. 

If you are interested I will send you more information or you can
visit the link:
To get an idea of the quality of our publications you can view our
previous books at the link above.

With Best Regards

Ornella Martin - Assistant Curator
World Wide Art Books,INC
1907 State Street
93101 Santa Barbara CA
Tel / fax +1 805 845 3869

World Wide Art Books was established in 1997 and has to date pub-
lished and represented over 6,000 artists from all over the world.

Unfortunately this kind of “pay-to-play” scenario is not unusual in the art world. The more my name gets out there the more contacts I receive asking me to pay money to be included in a publication, exhibition, or other so-called opportunity.

The illusion of “making it” as a visual artist today is not unlike the often unrealistic goals shared by young musicians. And, like the music business, the economically disparate art world reflects the failures of free market principles by rewarding only a few lucky or well-connected individuals and ignoring everyone else.

Elizabeth Warren’s critique of corporations and billionaires who believe they shouldn’t pay their fair share of taxes accurately critiques the focus on art stardom that pay-to-play organizations promote. There are thousands of artists, designers, and creators out there who exhibit their work publicly and contribute to the visual dialog. Like the industrialists who use publicly-funded roads to move their goods to market, the 1% of artists who reach international fame do so because they have been inspired by everyone else that came before them. Everyone else that is, who are targeted by rhetoric such as this from the World Wide Art Books website:

An invaluable tool for every artist who wants to help himself or herself to succeed, to get the best value for his or her art, to establish relationships with art galleries, and also as a reference for clients.

Every artist knows how important it is to be included in juried exhibitions, festivals, books and publications. To create an important record that will open a path to success and also to show his or her creations in every possible way and to get one’s art out of the studio and before the public eye.

I like to think that artists are more savvy than to fall prey to this marketing-speak. I also like to think they are inspired to respond to the world for reasons beyond getting “the best value” for their art. Sadly, the truth is there is little support in the United States for the cultural, social, and aesthetic contributions artists make, so many find themselves taking risks like this in order to get their work seen. Other risks include applying to shows that charge entry fees and provide no shipping expenses (to or from) or insurance. See this post with details about entry fees for artists: What it costs to be an artist.

In this post-Jesse Helms era, the echo of his “letting the market decide” tirade has only made matters worse. Artists have reduced themselves to craft production, creating unique, one-off works, with the hope of selling them to collectors. Instead of reflecting and affecting society, the market has given us a numb and spectacle-driven object factory akin more to stamp collecting than a valid mode of cultural production.

In his short book, Behind the Times: The Decline and Fall of the Twentieth-Century Avant-Gardes, Eric Hobsbawm points to the greater problem of a “collectable” art practice—that it suffers from lack of reproducibility, relevance to those outside of the art world, and actually obscures real political realities.

Hobsbawm says that, unlike film or literature, “an ideal work of art is deemed to be completely uncopiable, since its uniqueness is authenticated by signature and provenance.” Citing Benjamin’s famous “The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction,” he says this “spiritualization” of the object conflicts with the ability to reproduce a work for as many patrons as possible and throws art into a technological obsolescence. (Hobsbawm, 16) Put another way, 99% of the public doesn’t encounter art because it is regulated to museums and private collections.

Also, unlike movies or books, due to better technological methods for making images (namely photography) painting and other media have “abandoned the traditional language of representation” making it practically incomprehensible to a general public without an art historical training. (Hobsbawm, 24)

Finally, Hobsbawm argues that art has rendered itself impotent in terms of it’s impact by willfully turned its back on society. Unlike, film which had to communicate with a mass market or face economic failure, art has sought some grander idea that is intentionally exclusive of the masses. It pretends to critique society but rarely does it communicate anything at all to most of them because it has been regulated physically and philosophically to an irrelevant niche.