Part 1, Project 4 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 24/02/14](1)

Paul Seawright says (that if the work is)

“Too explicit then it becomes journalistic, …too ambiguous it becomes meaningless.” (1)

There is a fine line, probably an individualistic one depending on experience, that has to be found to make art – to give space for meaning without being obvious, which is journalistic.

I find the series of images very moving with the text, especially in the context of Brexit and the seeming disinterest of most of the UK population have when it comes to the consequences for the Northern Irish and Irish people. Being a mother to two teenage boys, the idea of a group of teenage boys standing outside a chip shop and being gunned down is just heartbreaking and shows up a side of the troubles I’d not really given much thought to. I’m not sure a purely documentary image would have the same effect on me – as it is, I have made my own connection and meaning based on my experiences. A list of facts with factual images does not have the same emotional effect, as I am not then invited to do that, rather I am invited to make a moral judgement on which side to take.

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

“Good art gives it’s meaning up slowly, but still gives it’s meaning up. Context is important. The construction of meaning is not done by (me), it’s done by the person looking at the artwork and you must leave space for that to happen, if you don’t then you really are back to an editorial picture in a magazine that … has to give up it’s meaning quickly.” (1)

Finding the line is the challenge; I agree with that.

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

A photograph taken as documentary is taken with a specific purpose in mind, to communicate a specific message or to record an event. For example, Eugène Atget’s images of Paris were, for the photographer, just documents he was making, just a record. Man Ray saw them as having a surrealist quality and decided they were art. Defined as art, Atgets’s images were appropriated by the surrealist movement which changed the context, encouraging the viewer to think about the photographs as something more than a document, to see them in a different way, to explore deeper to find meaning.

In this case Eugène Atget stuck with the original interpretation of the images he had made. When Man Ray ‘asked Atget if he could use his photo, Atget said: “Don’t put my name on it. These are simply documents I make.” ‘(2)

Seawright says (1) that an editorial images gets looked at for 15 seconds; defining an image as art leaves space for the viewer to make meaning. A photographic image taken as art and a photographic image taken as a record or document do different things but most images can be appropriated to show alternative meanings and uses when the surrounding context changes. 

Bibliography and References

Vimeo. (2019). Catalyst: Paul Seawright. [online] Available at: [Accessed 25 Jan. 2019]. (2019). Eugène Atget. [online] Available at:ène_Atget [Accessed 25 Jan. 2019].

Please note, the featured photograph was taken by my partner Neil Scott, not by me!