With the exhibition Fish Story, American artist Allan Sekula (1951) reconstructed a realist model of photographic representation, while taking a critical stance towards traditional documentary photography.
Though there is a long artistic tradition of depicting harbors, ships and coastlines, few contemporary artists are continuing it. In Fish Story Sekula picked up this tradition, demonstrating the history and future of maritime space not only as a visual space but also as a socio-economic one. Fish Story was his third project in a related cycle of works that deal with the imaginary and actual geography of the advanced capitalistic world. A key issue in Fish Story is the connection between containerized cargo movement and the growing internationalization of the world industrial economy, with its effects on the actual social space of ports.
Since its conception, Sekula sought to build the project cumulatively, exhibiting and publishing Fish Story as a work in progress. For the project Sekula photographed and described the harbors and cities of Barcelona, Gdansk, Glasgow, Hong Kong, London, Los Angeles, Newcastle-upon-Tyne, New York, Pusan, Rotterdam, San Diego, Seoul, Ulsan, Veracruz, Vigo and Warsaw, between 1988 and 1994, as well as his passage across the North Atlantic on a Sea-Land container vessel from Port Elisabeth, New Jersey, to the ECT/Sea-Land Terminal in Rotterdam.
The exhibition in Witte de With consisted of 7 sequences or chapters, incorporating 105 framed color photographs: “Fish Story,” “Loaves and Fishes,” “Middlepassage,” “Seventy in Seven,” “Message in a Bottle,” “True Cross,” and “Dictatorship of the Seven Seas.” Fish Story also included two slide sequences of 80 projected slides each: “Dismal Science” and “Walking on Water.” Overall, the sequences formed a circular movement. Departing from Los Angeles and San Diego, the artist traveled from the east coast of the United States to the shores of Europe and Asia, moving via Spain and Mexico to the Pacific Coast of the United States. In doing this, a number of contemporary and historic routes were traced and questioned. The photographs and slide installations were combined with text panels, which commented on the project. Sekula’s sequences defied the cult of the single image so notoriously present in contemporary photography.
The exhibition traveled to the Fotografiska Museet in Moderna Museet in Stockholm; the Tramway in Glasgow; and Le Channel, Scène nationale and Musée des Beaux Arts et de la Dentelle in Calais.