Gallery in the Cinema
What does it mean to be a maritime nation? To rule the waves? Or to harvest the sea? An American submarine collides with a Japanese fisheries training ship. What does this suggest about the division of labor in the Pacific? How relevant are these questions from a decade ago to Britain as it starts to renegotiate its relationship to Europe, the world, and itself?
Allan Sekula (1953—2013) was an American photographer and filmmaker best known for large scale projects about the economic, social and political space of the marine environment. Sekula described Lottery of the Sea (2006) as an “offbeat diary” tracing his journey moving from port to port, ship to ship, from Athens to Yokohama to Los Angeles and beyond. Sekula narrates over moving images depicting various vignettes of the globalized maritime distribution chain, such as butchers cutting meat at a market and port workers loading and unloading goods bound for or returning from global dispersal. The film’s title quotes The Wealth of Nations where Adam Smith (1723—90) used the phrase as an allegory to explain the idea of risk. Smith compares the life of the seafarer to that of a gambler, describing the experience of risk on behalf of the precarious labourer working onboard and on behalf of the investor, who sponsors the ship’s voyage, leading to a discussion of human labour’s interchangeability with material goods (ships, cargo, etc.). Sekula argues that the sea is a source of sublimity but also a site of deep horror and immense unpredictability.