Research point – Paul Seawright: “Sectarian Murder”

Look online at Paul Seawright’s work, Sectarian Murder.

• How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? Listen to Paul Seawright talk about his work at:
Having viewed the images”Sectarian Murder”, initially I see art, not documentary. For me the text clarifies the narrative and encourages a closer look. Then it becomes documentary. The boundaries are challenged because one has to ask questions to ascertain the meaning. In general documentary photographs are quick to be processed in the brain – a snap shot of actual events (unless of course one is looking at late photography images).

• What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?
Listening to Paul Seawright, he admits it’s a fine balance but states; “….if not direct enough the narrative is obscured or difficult. If it’s too explicit it just becomes journalistic. I guess if it becomes  too ambiguous, it becomes meaningless. His argument is that the work must leave space for the construction of the meaning to be concluded by the person looking at the work, it is not the job of the photographer to provide this – otherwise, and I quote Seawright; “you are back to the editorial picture in a magazine”. 

I agree with him in that the days of documentary images which purported to put the photographer at the heart of the action and bring home proof of actual events is not art, its journalism. This style has been replaced by a more visually engaging style of photography that involves the reader, encourages them to linger and construct their own narrative.

• If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its meaning?
Up until the 21st century, British gallery walls only contained what was known as “Art”. Documentary photographs were seen as pure documentary and their place was in newspapers, magazines and books. Work like Paul Seawright’s “Sectarian Murder” and “The Missing” series hangs in a gallery. As does the work of Don McCullin, Martin Parr and many others. I don’t think it changes the meaning of documentary photography, it is merely an alternative way of recording, viewing and helping us understand events unfolding across the world.

The image below is from Seawright’s “Sectarian Murder” series. I particularly enjoyed looking at this image. I see this as a work of art, beautifully composed and lit, soft hues and delicate tones. The child on the swing somehow depicts freedom and the adult offers protection. However on reading the accompanying text I realise that something very horrible has happened here and I try to visualise a murder in a children’s playground.

Roundabout Seawright

References Seawright, P. [accessed 29th May 2016]