Tag Archives: Allan Sekula

A Matter of cleaning up: treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall

I came across this journal article purely by chance and as it relates to image and text I made a few brief notes.

By comparing the works of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, van Gelder considers two photographic artistic methodologies. She also looks at the different ways that Sekula and Wall treat the relationship between the photograph and its caption(s); diverging attitudes towards the pictorial aspects of photography; the interaction between their essays and images – which differs widely.

‘there is a larger montage principle at work than that internal to any single work, or even book. Any retrospective look allows for that larger montage to emerge’.

Allan Sekula

Sekula’s preferred method of working is to encourage the viewer to consider his entire project in totality, with ‘cross-references and meaningful links to invisible but recoverable images’.  Sekula is sceptical of the legibility of the individual image and so prefers to present his work as a combination of text and images.

Build a sequence based on another picture that is not part of the sequence.

Allan Sekula (artist statement)

Photographs that were not part of an exhibition/presentation, but which were part of the original concept often contributed to the conceptual framework he was working with. The absent photos are part of his visual thought pattern. Sekula works with diptychs and triptychs, double and triple motifs that change the content of the images slightly. So the captioning of his images is quite important in providing clues to the relationship of the images. His captioning is quite cryptic, subtly concealed, often providing links to other images or even essays, not working on a one-to-one relationship with the image they are paired with. (This might be why I found the one exhibition of his work I attended a few years ago quite confusing – wish I had know about this at that time).

Both artists are art critics in their own right as well, but the way they present their work is again entirely different. Sekula does not delineate his critical texts from his images in his presentational methods – both are always intermingled. Wall, on the other hand, does not exhibit his photographs together with his essays. His essays are published in exhibition catalogues or art magazines. His way of working confirms the division of labour between the artist and the critic. He is an artist/critic. Wall fixes the meaning of his photographs with his use of text, while Sekula tries to get rid of the discursive schism between the critical essay and the images.

‘[A]s soon as you create a relay between a text and an image, you undermine any purist claims for either text or image. Neither element is foundational. The image is no longer the truth upon which the text is a commentary or subjective gloss, nor is the text a pinning down of a truth that is otherwise elusive in the image’.

Allan Sekula

For Sekula ‘an image is always part of the larger montage that is made up by the non-totalitarian totality-to employ a Deleuzian term-of his photographic archive’ (more on Deleuze here). Sekula’s texts help to contextualise and further the work and offer the viewer an insight to the photographer’s point of view. His texts and photographs are so interwoven that it is difficult to discern where Sekula the artist or Sekula the critic begins and ends.

van Gelder then compares of a few of Wall’s photographs with those of Sekula’s and goes into a little more of the specifics of the points mentioned above.

Reference List

van Gelder, H. (2007) A matter of cleaning up: Treating history in the work of Allan Sekula and Jeff Wall, History of Photography, 31:1, 68-80, DOI:10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503. Available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/03087298.2007.10443503 [Accessed 14 August, 2017]

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