Research Point - Paul Seawright's Sectarian Murders

Paul Seawright's Sectarian Murders is a collection of images of places where people were murdered during the Troubles. At first glance these places look like very regular places which we could all visit or pass by during the day, a playground, a crossroad or the beach. Only when you read the captions that describe the crime that took place on that particular spot, you look differently at it and start to wonder about the final moments a person must have gone through there at that time. 

The images are visually stimulating and let the eye wonder along the image. Most of them have a distinct for and background which makes you a bit disoriented at first, but then help you look beyond. The captions though are very matter of factly. They state that the murders were sectarian, but don't mention which side the victims belonged to. In that sense I think that the images challenge the boundaries of art and documentary because the images do stimulate the brain to find meaning the way works of art do, while on the other hand the information that is given in the caption puts this thinking into a context and relates to actual crimes that took place and is still very relevant today. 

Paul Seawright mentions in his talk that his images are not explicit in context and narrative. If they had been too explicit the images would have been journalistic, if they had been too ambiguous they would have lost its meaning. He says that 'the holy grail is to make work that visually engages people, draws them in and then that gives itself up, gives its meaning up slowly... You still have to be able to access what it is talking about'. 

I like the way Seawright defines the way he wants viewers to read his images and the space that he creates within the images for people to have their own experience when they look at his art. I think this steers away from documentary photography, in which the photographer aims to show more and has a clearer story to tell through its images. In Seawright's decision to not mention which side of the conflict the victims were on, he lets the viewer focus on the human side of the the losses of the conflict without adding a political layer to the work. In a journalistic photo I don't know if that would have been the case and it shows that art can go deeper to the human levels of feelings and understand and therefor transcend prejudice etc. 

I think that every viewer looks at an image differently and goes through a different psychological process with different connotations when looking at an image, no matter how clear cut the image or how artistic it might be. However, if images become more as a tool for introspection instead of telling a story that is worth knowing its meaning is changed. I don't think there is anything wrong with that, but that the photographer and news agent should be very aware of what is happening when the image is looked at and if that is really the message that they want to bring across.