POLIS/ITLR Fieldwork Photography Competition 3rd prize: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas

by Konstantinos Pittas

Pittas 4
PHOTO: Audubon Aquarium of the Americas, New Orleans, USA, 2019. © Konstantinos Pittas.

We are pleased to present the winners of the 2020 POLIS/ITLR Fieldwork Photography Competition. This photo by Konstantinos Pittas, PhD candidate at the Department of Politics and International Studies, University of Cambridge, won 3rd prize.

From the photographer:

This photograph in the Audubon Aquarium of the Americas in New Orleans depicts the sponsoring energy companies (from BP to Chevron) claiming that ‘the story of the Gulf of Mexico is incomplete without them’, without a single mention of the Deepwater Horizon oil spill in 2010. They argue instead that their 3,700 rigs are left in place in order to ‘serve as substructure on which reef systems develop’, hence preserving the marine habitats. The image was taken during my field research in the USA, where I was investigating diverse forms of critical engagement with museums (like artistic activism) and attempts to invent new self-reflective institutional structures. My work attempts to debunk the myth that museums are ideologically neutral since not only is cultural production embedded in a web of encoded interests, beliefs and social relations, but also the cultural sphere constitutes a terrain where these relations clash and are pitted against each other. By perceiving cultural institutions and museums as sites of ideological struggle, I attempt to bring to the fore their inner antagonisms, competing interests and inherent contradictions, while mapping the counter-discourses and counter-publics that emerge, trying to hold them accountable.