1951, Erie, USA–2013, Los Angeles, USA

Black Tide / Marea Negra, 2002/2003
Color analogue prints from slides, libretto
Thyssen-Bornemisza Art Contemporary, Vienna

In the photographic series Black Tide / Marea Negra, American artist Allan Sekula documented the aftermath of the major oil spill from the tanker Prestige that took place off the Spanish coast in 2002. This impressive documentation of the event is complemented by a meditation on the long-term effects of the largest anthropogenic disaster in European waters: a libretto for an opera set in 2032, by which time, according to expert predictions, the area should have recovered from the spill.

In his photographic projects on the subject of the ocean, Sekula discovers amidst uninhabited and romantically deserted spaces a focus of multinational social life and global financial flows. The oil tanker Prestige was built in Japan, registered in the Bahamas with a Liberian-registered corporation as the owner, operated by a Greek company, and chartered by a Swiss-based oil trader that was shipping Russian oil from Latvia to Singapore. Its crew largely was largely made up of Filipinos and Romanians. The melancholy feeling produced by the pictures of the disaster and the heroic work of the volunteers is combined here with an open-ended scenario for the future. Sekula’s documentation of the spill differs radically from conventional photojournalism (the artist describes his work as “critical realism”). His work aims to look at a concrete event within the complex reality and temporal perspective that most news reports fail to capture.