Photographer, theorist, and critic Allan Sekula (US, 1951–2013) is known for photographs and essays that blend researched, descriptive realism with emotionally impactful narrative. His photography actively engages ideas around labor, capitalism, and Marxist theory, providing complex and poignant critiques about social reality.
This exhibition features Sekula’s tour-de-force project Fish Story (1988–1995), the result of seven years of documenting harbors and port cities around the world. Beginning his journey in Los Angeles at the port in San Pedro where he grew up, the artist traveled as far as Korea, Scotland, and Poland, photographing the prosperity, poverty, and political powers that continue to play out in these sites.
A powerful work that unfolds over nine chapters, Fish Story is considered one of the most important image-based research projects of the late 20th century. Conceived of as both an exhibition and a book, the piece is composed of 105 photographs, slide projections, and accompanying texts that challenge and expand both the tradition of documentary photography and romantic notions of the sea. Now part of the Walker’s collection, the complete presentation of Fish Story has been shown in its entirety only a few times and has not been seen in the United States since 1999.
Sekula’s mode of presentation—using what appear to be the straightforward documentary elements of photography, captions, and text—can be seen as a photo essay as well as a more open-ended sequence. His approach captures what he characterized as “the imaginary and material geographies of the advanced capital world,” allowing the viewer’s own associations and experiences to expand the narrative.
The project, which examines the beginnings of an expanding and truly globalized shipping industry, reminds us that the precarious balance between large economic forces, climate change, and international politics has existed across decades. At a time when the world is feeling the strain placed on this international supply chain, Sekula’s Fish Story is once again asking us to consider the invisible human cost of economics.
William Hernández Luege, curatorial assistant, Visual Arts