Allan Sekula is a photographer, critic, historian of photography and essayist, all at once. After his early days which involved him in sculpture and performances (1970-71), he explored documentary photography which, at that time, had been somewhat abandoned, steering it towards a critique of the political, economic and social mechanisms of the globalized capitalist system, and their consequences on local communities. “[…] What attracted me a lot in that medium of expression (photography) was the unavoidable nature of its social referentiality, the way in which it could describe—albeit in enigmatic, deceptive, simplistic and often superficial terms—a whole world of institutions, gestures, mores and social relations”, explains the artist. The documentary form in his work is organized as a narrative photo-text system revealing the conditions of workers at work (Fish Story, 1995-96; Freeway to China, 1998-99), the life of populations living on either side of the border between the United States and Mexico (Dead Letter Office, 1997), the decline and drift of the world of schools (A School is a Factory, 1978-80) and his own pacifist stance (Two, Three, Many, 1972; War Without Bodies, 1991-96). Sekula focuses on a direct approach stripped of any aesthetically inclined research; the people are captured in action at their work places or training sites. In addition, he plays on the ambiguous relationship between mise en scène (stage set) and everyday goings-on (which may themselves contain an element of fiction or theatre), by combining different types of representation. The whole thing is thus organized on the basis of a principle of narrative sequence where the editing (comparable to film editing) alternates plans, text and images, based on an organized series which contrasts with the model of the archive and accumulation.
Allan Sekula was born in Erie, Pennsylvania. Between 1968 and 1972 he studied at the University of California in San Diego with Herbert Marcuse, among others. He lives and works in Los Angeles, and teaches at the California Institute of the Arts. His oeuvre has been exhibited all over the world in both solo exhibitions and group shows, including the Sao Paulo Biennial and the Taipei Biennial. A retrospective show of his work was held in 2009 in Poland. In 2010, he won the Special Jury Prize for Forgotten Space in Venice, in the Orizzonti competition. He has received awards from the Guggenheim Foundation, the National Endowment for the Arts, and the Getty Research Institute. He has also written books, including Titanic’s Wake (2003), Fish Story (1995), Photography Against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973-1983 (1984).