Allan Sekula, Against the Grain
Publisher: Against the Current
Date Written: 01/09/2014
Year Published: 2014
Resource Type: Article
Cx Number: CX20820
A tribute to the photographer, film-maker, cultural theorist, political activist, and Marxist intellectual, Allan Sekula.
Precociously, Sekula developed what is now a classic left theoretical argument for our emerging practices. In "Dismantling Modernism, Reinventing Documentary" (Notes on the Politics of Representation), he not only explained this argument but also illustrated it with examples of his works and a few others, including one of mine. At issue was the single, dramatic photo convention with captions versus an installation or book approach that opened up the use of multiple photos, graphics and, most significantly, texts.
Conceptualism was brought to us by the art faculty hired at UCSD from New York, principally David Antin. It shifted the concerns of vanguard high art away from the ocular to the concepts underlying all human communication, principally by way of language. Like all the art movements since Romanticism, it was directed backward against previous "schools," the most recent being Minimalism and Pop Art.
Texts and other ploys were used to foreground art ideas and it brought artists directly into the practices of criticism and art history. Though we at UCSD were already well into conceptual strategies when we "discovered" Hans Haacke, we identified one of the leading contemporary artists as a mentor and colleague.
We were adamant that our photos not float free of the context provided by their juxtapositions and the grounding of meaning by language. But we were also aware of, and interested in, acknowledging the problematics of representation, or as Allan called it, "critical realism." We moved against the division of labor between photographer and writer (and/or quoter). All photographs dealt in some way with social class and/or gender.
Depending on how one regards postmodernism, Conceptualism was the last paradigm of Modernism; now there are no new dominant schools, just careers.