Sekula Chapter 3

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S.R. I would like to focus a little bit on the thing I have in mind. For me your work always was something like a fusion of three different approaches: 1. Social research; the second is of course the so-called Documentary photograph; And the third, that's for me the Action which brings this together. That can be called performative or it's also specifically for a kind of documentary photographic, that you see that there is a kind of action that brings the camera or the lense in the right perspective. And my idea of your work is that in most of the big works of the last 10, 20 years ... I would say 20 years... that these three conditions are always fused together. Do you see it in this way, or...?

A.S. That's, no, that seems like a reasonable way to divide it up. I mean I think you can... Of course one question is or ... One issue is that after 1981 the performative gesture drops out of the image; the image itself appears increasingly like a ... let's say, documentary image; there is a kind of distance. Typically I haven't inserted myself as an artificer into the frame in any way; there's no gesture within the frame that consciously calls to mind my manipulation of the scene or, [...]... So the photographs have a more beguilingly traditional documentary look perhaps, but the construction is, [...] the sequencing, the bringing of a text to bear on the image – not in a direct way but often in a very indirect way, [...]... another kind of referentiality, kind of parallel discourse to the image tract – that then constitutes this third term you're talking about. ... And then I began, more recently I have returned in certain works ... to overt theatrical gestures, whether it be actually enacting something myself or ... treating a social event as if it were an opera or a theatrical process, [...] this kind of thing.

S.R. Also with your riding for many years ships, to follow different trading lines of the containers. Can this be seen as a kind of documentary performance, that you have to do this not only to get these images but also to have the experience how this life on the ships are going on, ...and how the ships are coming to the harbours and so on. Because I was always really impressed by this long-term research.

A.S. Yea, At some point you have to endure a different kind of time lets say from the time of artist practice as it's currently socialized and entered into the market, you know, artist time ... there's the time of the studio, ... of reproduction ... through the schooling system, there's ... the time of the gallery show. And it always struck me that people who did serious non-fiction writing, [...] had a very different tempo to their production ... George Orwell or Norman Mailer in his ... non-fiction works ... Gloria Emmerson writing about the Vietnam war ... any of the great sort of reportage writers of the 20th century. There is a kind of an immersion that goes on in the scene, in the subject of however many years it takes to know it, to live there, to understand its literary properties, its dynamics. And for me that meant for example that I would go ... as I was looking at port cities I would often go there and not meet the artists, you know ... I wouldn't be particularly interested in the art world [...]. I'd meet people who worked in the port or worked on ships and (..) would describe myself to them as a writer and a photographer more frequently than I would say I was an artist, because it seemed to me that ... the possibility of an open exchange with them required a degree of self-effacement that the term artist doesn't ...repably(??) call to mind in laypeoples' imaginations. And it's true, that's what I'm typically doing, I'm writing and I'm photographing I'm making notes ... I wanted to say I was a writer so they would understand that if they said something to me it wasn't simply a story told to a photographer for whom it might only serve as background, but it might possibly be something that I would end up recounting, retelling ... so that there was a kind of honesty about that and ...


A.S. Well I think often I would enter into a scene perhaps in a way of a reporter doing a deep investigation would do. I wouldn't announce myself as an artist. I would say I'm a writer and a photographer; ...I would let people know that I was writing as well as photographing because then they would know that if they told me something then it might get translated in some form into a text I was preparing. (...) I also learned ways to make notes that weren't terribly obvious ... to remember the way people would phrase things, and build that into what I was writing. And I also learned a way to divide photographing from listening ... looking from listening and understand that one has to be absolutely centred on one or the other; in that sense it's not like film-making, where sound and image are coming at you together. (..) And I'd more or less avoid whatever art world might exist in that city or in that country, [...] and work with people in their work-situations ... like shipyard workers, or dock workers or... people working on ships. And then ... this issue of experiencing the time of that world, you know, the time of ... these slow, heavy industrial processes.

S.R. Do you think that there is – it is always a question for me- if there is a kind of beyond this pure work of the reportage. Is there a fascination for their work or for their existence ... for their life, for their daily life .... ?

A.S. I think it often is fascinating, it is fascinating because, in part because it's so often discounted, it's seen as part of an old economy, a nice-century economy. And this to me is one of the great lies of late modernity, you know ... the lie that only mental labour is important, that only the new electronic, computer based industry is significant; the failure to really even recognize that we live in a world of materials that of course have to be extracted from the earth, processed, shipped often in huge volumes. And, you know , a ship carrying cement is as important as an airfreight-shipment of harddrives, you know, there is no hierarchy of importance between these things and yet we've come to assume that the motor of the economy is only the new technical forces. So the ... there is a kind of imbalance that it seems to me looking at the supposedly obsolete ... or the supposedly derelict practices adjusts; that balance is adjusted by putting attention to the thing that's discounted. I think, you know, obsolescence is a rumour, not a truth, [...] and that one has to recover the living in the things that appear to be obsolete ... So that's a partial task for me. But one also has to recognize these systems that are implicated in [...] cybernated systems in the like ... I mean you can't talk about the contemporary world of logistics without talking about just-in-time-production, computer-catalouging, [...] computer manifests, [...] these sorts of things... these kind of cybernated assembly line. One has to work on what is antiquated and discounted and also on the degree to which these things were actually integrated into a more technological event system, that's changing all the time...(0:30:30:04) And I suppose that shift, I mean [...]... One way to argue is that pop art had the consumer economy in its sights; you know, it went more or less as far as the backroom of the grocery store – let's say that Warhol took us to the backroom of the grocery store where the soup cans are still in the box and the Brillo pads are still in the box ... but it was very hard to make the next step. ... That conceptual art in some ways shifted the terms to largely discoursive considerations; questions of language, questions of the image; and that the emphasis on the materiality of language was very important. But what got missed maybe was the referentiality to the broader materialities of the commodity world. So that when the commodities reappeared as an object of art in the 80s it was even more fetishized than it had been in pop art. You know, it was now really in this kind of spectacular arena of, you know, the luminous object, isolated from the chain of production.


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