The title of this event came 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.
The conversation between Sekula and Kaja Silverman was 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 was screened at International House in Philadelphia on the evening following this event.