Allan Sekula

Allan Sekula took the photos that he would subsequently put together to create the Self-Portrait as Sculptor/Painter/Photographer triptych (1972), when he was twenty-one and still an art student. At first, the three shots seem to simply quote the formal vocabulary of the Classical self-portrait: the artist with the tools of his art. On closer inspection, the viewer notices the contrast between the poses the young artist adopts for the camera, whose manner and tone fit with the rebellious nature of the 1968 generation, and the crudeness of his accoutrements: the welding goggles smeared with paint, the shapeless white form in his hands. Sekula’s triptych thus seems to be not so much a self-portrait as an ironic self-interrogation. In another early work, A Short Autobiography (1971–1972), Sekula reused two of the three photographs from the triptych, commenting on them with these words: ‘The best painters and sculptors are blind, these days, suffering from an absolute freedom of being trivial’. Indeed, it is difficult to square his artistic identity with the classical image of the heroic painter or sculptor. His irony and politically critical attitude would later find an ideal tool in the medium of photography— as is already prefigured in the triptych’s third picture — initially as a means to record his actions, and subsequently as an autonomous documentary language.