Project 4 The gallery wall – documentary as art

Research point

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

How does this work challenge the boundaries between documentary and art? Listen
to Paul Seawright talk about his work at: [accessed

I viewed the ‘Sectarian Murder’ work by Paul Seawright on line.

I also viewed another short interview on YouTube with Paul Seawright Art of the Troubles – Artist Paul Seawright

The images document in retrospect sites of sectarian murders of innocent civilians during the 1970’s in Northern Ireland. The images have the date along with extracts from newspapers at the time of the murders underneath, with any indication of religious inclination (Protestant or Catholic) removed. Seawright explains in the YouTube interview how it is also about time, the passing of time between the murders and his photographs, along with the time between his photographs and the viewer seeing the images in the present, about ‘how the landscape repairs very quickly’.

The images take a reflective, retrospective view on the troubles in Northern Ireland, many years after the events. By not recording the actual event or the direct aftermath of the events, it has given the photographer space to add a personal artistic viewpoint where a lot of time has passed by, you could say the work is staged, it certainly feels that way to me. The challenge must be to photograph a subject like this in a different unique way.

There is a definite, predetermined, thought out process in the making of this set of images, the images reflect on the words and the words reflect on the images, the void between the two is the art, there is an additional thought process as the observer trying to pull the puzzle together to find meaning.

What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?

Paul Seawright explains in the short video clip :

‘If it is too explicit it becomes journalistic….if its too ambiguous it becomes meaningless’

So essentially there is a fine line, a balance between the photograph documenting an event as it actually happens and it being art. He speaks of a photograph in a newspaper and the need for writing to give us meaning behind the photograph, a title, a written journalistic piece or essay, one lends to the other in narrating the story.

I agree with the idea that to engage with people longer than a quick glance at a photograph which is lending to the factual recording of an event, you need to deliver a message that will engage the viewer for longer, draw them in to look further around the frame, perceive what is in the frame and what isn’t in the frame, why the photographer has decided to included certain things and exclude others. What isn’t included in the frame can also say a lot about an image. What message is the story trying to tell me, sometimes its like a puzzle or a mystery that you pull together, it unfolds before you in the photograph or in a series of photographs.

I still think that there is a strong link between the written word and photography when it is presented to people. A strong image should draw you in, keep you there but I think a short brief title or a sentence can in certain instances lend to the ‘Context and Narrative’. Maybe there is a strength that photographers develop over time with their work, less need for a written explanation, more visual observation and delivery. I also wonder if photography has to give an explanation or a meaning to everything, some stuff needs to be left for people to consider for themselves.

If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its

I would have to query if the photography had an intended meaning/message or if it was simply used as a measuring device to record an event, or both perhaps? At what point is the ‘meaning’ attached to a piece of photography? Was it in the creation, a thought out/mapped, set-up piece of art or did it simply unfold before your eyes (non-fiction) and you recorded it.

As Seawright explains:

‘Construction of meaning is not done by me, its done by the person looking at the artwork’

I would query that however we personally perceive art or photography, it does not take away from its original intended meaning, regardless of our own thoughts about it, the original intent is always there. However, if the message if not delivered in a way that people can understand it, it may as well not exist in the first place, it is ‘too ambiguous’ as Seawright discusses.

It was Ansel Adams that said:

‘There is nothing worse than a sharp image of a fuzzy concept’ – Ansel Adams


Catalyst: Paul Seawright

Art of the Troubles – Artist Paul Seawright

Nationalgalleryie – Paul Seawright in conversation


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