Allan Sekula was an American photographer, writer, theorist and historian of photography whose work was concerned with the socio-economic consequences of globalization.
Sekula’s longest sustained work is Fish Story, a seven-year photographic series detailing the most significant maritime ports in the world, divided into seven chapters totalling 105 colour images, and two sets of slides. Exhibited at Taipei Biennial are the final two of Sekula’s chapters, Message in a Bottle and True Cross, in addition to Dismal Science and Walking on Water, which between them comprise eighty projected slides.
Tracing historic and contemporary shipping channels across Europe, the Americas, and Asia, Fish Story visually reflects maritime painting traditions, and conceptually explores the role of the ocean in the history of globalisation. Between 1989 and 1995, Sekula travelled from Los Angeles and San Diego on the East Coast of the USA to the shores of Glasgow, London, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, Rotterdam and Warsaw in Europe, across to Hong Kong and Seoul in Asia, and back to the Pacific Coast of the United States via Barcelona and Veracruz.
Sekula’s extensive project exposes the maritime industry as the fundamental, yet largely unseen, foundation of worldwide commodity distribution, while casting an eye on its multifarious personalities too. Documentation of gigantic port infrastructures, and the slow, weighty transportation of goods at sea, are therefore balanced with the changing social landscape of the coast—in particular, the way in which the hyper-rationalization of ships’ time in port is extinguishing traditional maritime subcultures and secondary economies.
Fish Story delves into a vast expanse of economic and political events throughout the second half of the twentieth century: the crisis of profitability in USA in the 1960s, leading to increased German and Japanese production; the unprecedented explosion of export-based manufacturing throughout East Asia in the 1980s; and the collapse of the Soviet Union in the 1990s.
Photographs and slide projections from Sekula’s global journey exist, as a rule, alongside discursive texts in order to defy and critique the contemporary cult of the single image in contemporary photography, and reveal the multitude of stories contained in this complex work.