The Demonstrators Also Waited

A conversation with Allan Sekula on the politics of occupation and the shifting relationship between photojournalism and global capitalism


Fields of Knowledge
  • Aesthetics / Media
  • Pedagogy
  • Philosophy / Theory
  • Politics / Economics

Organizing Institutions



Kaja Silverman


Kaja Silverman/Mellon Foundation, Department of the History of Art and the Institute of Contemporary Art, the University of Pennsylvania, Erica Levin, Alex Klein

Opens to public


Slought is pleased to announce "The Demonstrators Also Waited," an evening conversation with Allan Sekula and Kaja Silverman on Tuesday, January 17, 2012 from 6:30-8:30pm at Slought. The title of this event comes from a short essay written by Kaja Silverman about Allan Sekula's Waiting For Tear Gas, a slide show consisting of 81 images taken in Seattle during protests against the World Trade Organization in the autumn of 1999. In Waiting For Tear Gas, Sekula records "the lulls, the waiting, and the margins of the events." Photographing without a flash, telephoto zoom lens, or auto-focus, he refuses the pressure "to grab at all costs the one defining image of dramatic violence." Instead he presents us with a sequence that evokes the slow time of conflict in the street where the orchestration of police operations opens onto moments of uncertainty. These are scenes where everyone's role is pre-determined, but no one is quite sure how things will actually proceed.

With the clearing of many of the Occupy camps late this fall, we have come again to see how conflict in the street entails waiting and how uncertainty and anticipation color the experience of bodies asserting themselves against the abstraction of global capital. Occupation has been described as a tactic that is opposed to the temporality of protest since it does not begin or end at a pre-given moment, but rather insists on the principle of open-endedness. But waiting occurred everywhere and threats of eviction shaped the Occupy movement's struggles. Occupation as a tactic has now opened on to new and as of yet undefined horizons, in some cases trading visibility for new forms of self-organization. The first few months of Occupy gave rise to an explosion of documentation, indelible moments of violence, but also many images that correspond more closely to the principles of what Sekula has called the "anti-photojournalism" behind Waiting For Tear Gas. Such scenes of volatile collectivity invite reflection, especially now as many of the most visible elements of the occupations have begun to disappear from view.

The conversation between Sekula and Kaja Silverman will be an occasion to ask how a work like Waiting For Tear Gas appears now in the light of the politics of occupation that have taken hold in our own moment, as well as a time to consider the shifting relationship between photography and temporality in Sekula's larger body of work on the operations of global capitalism, particularly at sea. This subject has been the focus of a related series of projects focused on maritime trade, in works such as Fish Story, The Lottery of the Sea, and Sekula's latest film, The Forgotten Space, which will be screened at International House in Philadelphia on the evening following this event (January 18, 2012, 7:00 pm).

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Since the early 1970s, Allan Sekula has theorized the practice of documentary photography as both an artist and a critic. He often works in essay form in order to challenge the apparent autonomy of the singular image; for example in "Untitled Slide Sequence" (1972) employees at General Dynamics emerge one by one or in small groups at the end of the day just as workers at the Lumière factory did nearly a century before. Sekula is also the author of a number of seminal essays including, "The Traffic in Photographs" (1981) and "The Body and the Archive" (1992).

His trenchant critique of social documentary turns on his account of the tension between the technological and aesthetic discourses of photography. Sekula's prolific body of work has continued to revolve around issues of labor and the aesthetic and economic traffic in images bound up with the processes of globalization. In recent years Sekula has turned to the medium of film which has offered up new and rich means for bringing together image and word in works such as The Lottery of the Sea (2006) and The Forgotten Space (2010).

Sekula lives and works in Los Angeles where he also teaches at the California Institute of the Arts. He has had solo shows recently at MuHKA, Antwerp, Belgium; Ludwig Muzeum, Budapest, Hungary; e-flux, New York; The Renaissance Society, Chicago; and the Generali Foundation, Vienna, Austria.