In Paul Seawright’s exhibition entitled ‘Sectetarian Murders’, Seawright revisits the scene of the crimes and photographs each one in his own style.
What type of images do we conjure up when thinking of the scene of a murder? We would expect it to be quite gruesome, with a body, lots of blood and hopefully some evidence as to how the crime was committed and by whom? Seawright’s photographs show none of these expected subjects. Instead the photographs he produced show the scene as it is intended to be used. Is this a way of documenting the scene or is it an artistic view of the scene?
As the subject is ‘the places sectarian murders took place’ then it suggests that these photographs do serve as some sort of documentation however, the way it which the scenes have been interpreted aren’t in a documentary style. In the two examples above (fig.1 and Fig.2) a subjective approach has been taken and lots of consideration has been given to how the viewer will interpret the meaning. I think this is pushing the boundaries of documentary photography but in a very clever way. The facts are given underneath each photograph so I can imagine how the scene looked as the crime took place and the scene of crimes officers would have taken the photographs I have in my mind. Seawright has removed those images and given me an idea of how the scene looked after the murder and probably isn’t dissimilar to how it looked before. The photograph is no longer documentary and is classified as art. I’m now wondering what the message is. What is the meaning of photographing a scene in this way, given the information in the newspaper article written underneath the photograph? My train thoughts had such a subtle transition form documentary for art that I was barely aware.
In an interview (which can be viewed in the link below) Paul Seawright was asked the question , ‘much of your work is not explicit in its context or narrative, the viewer has to piece it together, can you discuss this?’
Seawright is basically trying to create a fine line between documentary and art. In his words he creates this by not being too explicit and not being too ambiguous. He goes on to explain that if the photographs are too explicit then it becomes journalistic and if they’re too ambiguous then the meaning is lost. He believes that good art gives up its meaning slowly. I agree with this statement because objective photography is meant to give you the story instantly as in advertising or journalism. You would stare at an advertising photograph for very long so the meaning has to hit you in the face. With more thought and consideration going into a photograph the meaning needs to be eased out. You need to look for hidden messages and see something new with each view.
In Fig.1 and Fig.2 I’m not entirely sure what the meaning is by looking at the photograph but each time I look I’m building a picture of what the photograph is trying to say. We are given the facts of murders taking place at these spots however we are shown how life goes on despite horrific events especially in fig. 1 where a child is being pushed on a swing by it’s father. Everything returns to normal eventually. This is now making me wonder what the point of the murder was? A loss of life, for what? What’s changed? Nothing! In Fig. 2 the wasteland is still waste land. Theres still rubbish dumped everywhere. Nothing has changed.
If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change it’s meaning?
I don’t think it changes it’s meaning although in Seawright’s case it makes the images more meaningful. The way in which the scenes have been interpretted are open to suggestion for instance, are the viewpoints the same as those of the murdered victims? This has a whole lot more meaning that of the documentary type photos. It’s seen from the eyes of the victim and not the eyes of the investigators.
We have become so desensitised through images on the news of war torn Syria and the senseless waste of life left in the streets for the world to see. What seawright has created is far more shocking by telling us what happened in one place and showing how normal life happens in that place. The two are too much of a contrast, seeing a child being pushed on the swings and reading a man had been shot in the head three times, same place, different time, two very different deeds.
Defining a piece of documentary photography as art in my opinion increases it’s meaning however the speed in which it’s delivered is slowed down considerably and therefore is much more considered and lasting.