Art isn’t fair

Essays on the traffic in photographs and related media

Words by

Artdoc

© Allan Sekula | Dear Bill Gates

Recently, Mack published a voluminous compendium called Art isn’t Fair, in which a  significant part of the writings of Allan Sekula about photography and film and his critical analysis of other photographers and exhibitions have been collected. The book fills a textual gap for scholars and students in photography who want to have an almost complete overview of his influential writings.


As says his official website, Allan Sekula (1951-2013) was an American photographer, writer, critic, and filmmaker. He earned BA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego, and taught at California Institute of the Arts for over three decades. Sekula’s writings and art bridged the gap between conceptual and documentary practices, which both were in his eyes, essentially the same. He questioned documentary conventions, and saw photography mainly as a social practice, talking about the world and its problems.

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Sekula oscillated during his life as a practical photographer, mainly in the field of conceptual documentary photography, and a writer and critic. In Art isn’t Fair we find more than twenty chapters of his writings with a wide variety of topics, but all with a common theme, the relation between economy and photography.

In the first chapter Introduction: Reading an Archive, about the function of photographic archives, in this particular case, a book about coal mining, commissioned by a mining company in Cape Breton, Canada. Here Sekula dives deep into the ‘truth myth’ in photographic discussions. He states: “Clearly archives are not neutral: they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection and hoarding as well as that power inherent in command of the lexicon and rules of that language.” More interesting and exemplary of his writings and though is the following statement.

“In general, then, the hidden imperatives of photographic culture drag us in two contradictory directions: toward “science” and myth of “objective truth” on the one hand, and towards “art” and a cult of “subjective experience” on the other.” According to Allan Sekula, this is a fake and goofy dualism. Photography is not both, and neither is the one or the other, but photography is imprisoned in the discourse of science and art. He states that all discussions on photography are governed by art history, but we should now understand how photography functions in the daily life in our industrial society.

In other chapters, we find The emerging Picture-Language of Industrial Capitalism in which he describes the representation of the machine in the early years of the industrial revolution, which is, in fact, a pre-photographic essay as it concerns lithographic drawings of machines.  

If you like a concise piece of text summarizing his views, turn to Eleven Premises on Documentary and a Question, (2006) at the end of the book. In premise number 7, Allan Sekula makes his favourite statement on documentary photography, saying that modernism is uncomfortable with the documentary practice. “Modernism’s anti-documentary bias is born of the tyranny of the plastic arts.” Further on, he explains his statement with a more practical example. He writes: “I often meet with art students who resist documentary approaches even as they are otherwise attracted to the. One stated rationale for this approach-avoidance syndrome is always the same: the gallery system is not receptive.” This sums up the present situation photography finds itself in. In galleries and museums alike, the rationale for sales and public attraction is supposed to be art because it refers to Western art history. As documentary photography aims foremost more to a critical analysis of the society itself in which it has to survive economically, it has to dress up as the artist, and so, it might lose its critical function as it becomes neutralized by the art institutions.

Allan Sekula is still, many years after his death, an inspiring writer and critic. The book Art isn’t fair is an honourable tribute to his legacy.


Art isn't fair has been published by Mack

Art isn’t fair

Essays on the traffic in photographs and related media

Words by

Artdoc

© Allan Sekula | Dear Bill Gates

Recently, Mack published a voluminous compendium called Art isn’t Fair, in which a  significant part of the writings of Allan Sekula about photography and film and his critical analysis of other photographers and exhibitions have been collected. The book fills a textual gap for scholars and students in photography who want to have an almost complete overview of his influential writings.


As says his official website, Allan Sekula (1951-2013) was an American photographer, writer, critic, and filmmaker. He earned BA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego, and taught at California Institute of the Arts for over three decades. Sekula’s writings and art bridged the gap between conceptual and documentary practices, which both were in his eyes, essentially the same. He questioned documentary conventions, and saw photography mainly as a social practice, talking about the world and its problems.

Sekula oscillated during his life as a practical photographer, mainly in the field of conceptual documentary photography, and a writer and critic. In Art isn’t Fair we find more than twenty chapters of his writings with a wide variety of topics, but all with a common theme, the relation between economy and photography.

In the first chapter Introduction: Reading an Archive, about the function of photographic archives, in this particular case, a book about coal mining, commissioned by a mining company in Cape Breton, Canada. Here Sekula dives deep into the ‘truth myth’ in photographic discussions. He states: “Clearly archives are not neutral: they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection and hoarding as well as that power inherent in command of the lexicon and rules of that language.” More interesting and exemplary of his writings and though is the following statement.

“In general, then, the hidden imperatives of photographic culture drag us in two contradictory directions: toward “science” and myth of “objective truth” on the one hand, and towards “art” and a cult of “subjective experience” on the other.” According to Allan Sekula, this is a fake and goofy dualism. Photography is not both, and neither is the one or the other, but photography is imprisoned in the discourse of science and art. He states that all discussions on photography are governed by art history, but we should now understand how photography functions in the daily life in our industrial society.

In other chapters, we find The emerging Picture-Language of Industrial Capitalism in which he describes the representation of the machine in the early years of the industrial revolution, which is, in fact, a pre-photographic essay as it concerns lithographic drawings of machines.  

If you like a concise piece of text summarizing his views, turn to Eleven Premises on Documentary and a Question, (2006) at the end of the book. In premise number 7, Allan Sekula makes his favourite statement on documentary photography, saying that modernism is uncomfortable with the documentary practice. “Modernism’s anti-documentary bias is born of the tyranny of the plastic arts.” Further on, he explains his statement with a more practical example. He writes: “I often meet with art students who resist documentary approaches even as they are otherwise attracted to the. One stated rationale for this approach-avoidance syndrome is always the same: the gallery system is not receptive.” This sums up the present situation photography finds itself in. In galleries and museums alike, the rationale for sales and public attraction is supposed to be art because it refers to Western art history. As documentary photography aims foremost more to a critical analysis of the society itself in which it has to survive economically, it has to dress up as the artist, and so, it might lose its critical function as it becomes neutralized by the art institutions.

Allan Sekula is still, many years after his death, an inspiring writer and critic. The book Art isn’t fair is an honourable tribute to his legacy.


Art isn't fair has been published by Mack

Art isn’t fair

Essays on the traffic in photographs and related media

Words by

Artdoc

© Allan Sekula | Dear Bill Gates

Recently, Mack published a voluminous compendium called Art isn’t Fair, in which a  significant part of the writings of Allan Sekula about photography and film and his critical analysis of other photographers and exhibitions have been collected. The book fills a textual gap for scholars and students in photography who want to have an almost complete overview of his influential writings.


As says his official website, Allan Sekula (1951-2013) was an American photographer, writer, critic, and filmmaker. He earned BA and MFA degrees in Visual Arts from University of California, San Diego, and taught at California Institute of the Arts for over three decades. Sekula’s writings and art bridged the gap between conceptual and documentary practices, which both were in his eyes, essentially the same. He questioned documentary conventions, and saw photography mainly as a social practice, talking about the world and its problems.

Sekula oscillated during his life as a practical photographer, mainly in the field of conceptual documentary photography, and a writer and critic. In Art isn’t Fair we find more than twenty chapters of his writings with a wide variety of topics, but all with a common theme, the relation between economy and photography.

In the first chapter Introduction: Reading an Archive, about the function of photographic archives, in this particular case, a book about coal mining, commissioned by a mining company in Cape Breton, Canada. Here Sekula dives deep into the ‘truth myth’ in photographic discussions. He states: “Clearly archives are not neutral: they embody the power inherent in accumulation, collection and hoarding as well as that power inherent in command of the lexicon and rules of that language.” More interesting and exemplary of his writings and though is the following statement.

“In general, then, the hidden imperatives of photographic culture drag us in two contradictory directions: toward “science” and myth of “objective truth” on the one hand, and towards “art” and a cult of “subjective experience” on the other.” According to Allan Sekula, this is a fake and goofy dualism. Photography is not both, and neither is the one or the other, but photography is imprisoned in the discourse of science and art. He states that all discussions on photography are governed by art history, but we should now understand how photography functions in the daily life in our industrial society.

In other chapters, we find The emerging Picture-Language of Industrial Capitalism in which he describes the representation of the machine in the early years of the industrial revolution, which is, in fact, a pre-photographic essay as it concerns lithographic drawings of machines.  

If you like a concise piece of text summarizing his views, turn to Eleven Premises on Documentary and a Question, (2006) at the end of the book. In premise number 7, Allan Sekula makes his favourite statement on documentary photography, saying that modernism is uncomfortable with the documentary practice. “Modernism’s anti-documentary bias is born of the tyranny of the plastic arts.” Further on, he explains his statement with a more practical example. He writes: “I often meet with art students who resist documentary approaches even as they are otherwise attracted to the. One stated rationale for this approach-avoidance syndrome is always the same: the gallery system is not receptive.” This sums up the present situation photography finds itself in. In galleries and museums alike, the rationale for sales and public attraction is supposed to be art because it refers to Western art history. As documentary photography aims foremost more to a critical analysis of the society itself in which it has to survive economically, it has to dress up as the artist, and so, it might lose its critical function as it becomes neutralized by the art institutions.

Allan Sekula is still, many years after his death, an inspiring writer and critic. The book Art isn’t fair is an honourable tribute to his legacy.


Art isn't fair has been published by Mack

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