Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973-1983


259 pages
Contains Illustrations
ISBN 0-919616-28-3





Reviewed by Hans B. Neumann

Hans B. Neumann is a history lecturer at Scarborough College, University
of Toronto.


Allan Sekula has assembled an outstanding book that explores both the theory and practice of the discipline of photography. The volume consists of a number of articles and photo works previously published in whole or in part during the period 1973-1983. These contributions are “against the grain” in that the author presents himself in the dual role of writer on photography and photographer; he takes an independent position in the modernist/post-modernist debate; and he offers robustly iconoclastic points of view in the current context in his analysis of the “social practice” (p.ix) of photography.

In the essays Sekula displays an erudition far beyond his field of photography. This approach alone makes the text quite readable, even to non-professionals, who, however, will find the book more valuable if they have a solid knowledge of the topics discussed. Absolute gems of analysis and insight are represented by “The Traffic in Photographs” (pp.77-101), and “Dismantling Modernism....” (pp.53-75), both also intelligently illustrated with photographs that elucidate the text. Of the photo works, in addition to the author’s well-known “Aerospace Folktales” (pp. 106-64), highlight is the first part (pp. 199-225) of “School Is a Factory,” which consists of evocative photos underlined by biting, pithy captions.

This book is must reading for instructors in the field of photography, relevant reading for commercial or professional photographers, interesting reading for the browsing intellectual.


Sekula, Allan, “Photography against the Grain: Essays and Photo Works 1973-1983,” Canadian Book Review Annual Online, accessed September 30, 2023,