“Walking on Water”, chapter 9, from Fish Story, 1990/1995

Installation view: Allan Sekula – OKEANOS, Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna, 2017
Photo: Jens Ziehe | TBA21

Single-channel slide projection of eighty 35 mm color slides
Overall dimension variable

Walking on Water is the ninth and final chapter of Fish Story and is presented as a slide show with eighty slides, shown sequentially and accompanied by a text piece. Both components explore the changing working conditions and economic relations of the shipbuilding industry in Poland. The choice to extensively research Poland had also an autobiographical motivation, as Sekula’s family had immigrated to the United States from there.

Poland’s shipbuilding industry expanded rapidly in the 1960s and 1970s, bolstered by the Soviet Union’s ambition to become a maritime superpower, with its output eventually representing 4 percent of the world’s total ships. Many of the photographs included in Walking on Water were taken in the Gdansk shipyard, one of the largest shipbuilding facilities, and the site where the trade union Solidarity was founded in the early 1980s. Made between 1990 and 1993, at a moment of great uncertainty shortly after the fall of the Soviet Union, they portray the shift to privatization, with the originally state-owned company becoming a publicly traded entity. The photographs and accompanying captions look at the complicated distinctions between working under socialism versus the new free-market economy and how this transition affected both the workers themselves and the urban composition of the towns where the factories were located. This shift was also crucial for the running theme of the larger Fish Story project, which documented the potential for the expansion of a capitalist labor force through the opening up of former Eastern Bloc countries. 

The title Walking on Water functions both as a metaphor for the ship itself, which hovers on the water, and as a reference to the history of Catholicism in Poland and the role of the church. The series displays the hardships present at the time and includes a joke circulating in Poland in the 1990s that challenges the relationship between the Church and the worker: “They build churches so that people can pray for houses.” – Allan Sekula, “Epilogue,” in Fish Story, 187.
Allan Sekula (January 15, 1951 – August 10, 2013) was an American photographer, writer, filmmaker, theorist and critic. From 1985 until his death in 2013, he taught at California Institute of the Arts.[1] His work frequently focused on large economic systems, or "the imaginary and material geographies of the advanced capitalist world."[2]
He received fellowships and grants from the Guggenheim FoundationNational Endowment for the ArtsGetty Research InstituteDeutsche Akademischer Austauschdienst (DAAD), Atelier Calder[3] and was named a 2007 USA Broad Fellow.

This biography is from Wikipedia under an Attribution-ShareAlike Creative Commons License