Research Point-Sectarian Murder

Paul Seawright- Sectarian Murder


Copyright Paul Seawright

Seawright’s Sectarian Murder is for me the quintessential example of ‘Aftermath Photography’. It also has a biographical component in that the artist made a sequence of images at locations close to where he grew up as a child. The work was also influenced by a diary he kept which amongst other things recorded key news events in his youth. I was interested to read that Kelly(1996) suggests the work originally had no title and the current title was coined by reviewers and critics rather than Seawright himself.

Visiting the sites of murders or places where the bodies of the murdered catholics and protestant  were dumped Seawright uses a well lit, almost forensic approach to recording the location of the atrocity. There is almost a calm, even banal feel to the locations and the images that contrast with the parallel texts that sits with each image. The text, taken fro news reports of the time set out the nature of the atrocity. The effect is a stark and for me uncomfortable contrast between the benign landscape location and the nature of the text about the murder. Seawright creates a different way in which to look at historic killings, placing them to some extent in the present. I believe this approach makes a strong and powerful stomata about the troubles in Ulster from a unique and non-journalistic perspective.

Seawright has raised for me questions about the boundaries between art and documentary photography. The boundary is blurred and i think both art and documentary images can exists simultaneously.

In the short Imperial War Museum video clip referenced in the course matures, Seawright’s gives a brief compelling argument of the difference between editorial images and art images. suggesting that there is a fine balance to be achieved, but in essence art images are visually engaging but give their meaning up slowly. It is hard to say whether i agree or diaper with this perspective. In reality I am still on a steep learning curve and I need to learn more in order to formulate a personal view point. That said I do agree with his assertion that editorial images, whether for advertising or journalistic purposes need to give up their meaning up more quickly. Viewers can have short attention spans so the desired information to be transmitted needs to be obvious and indeed immediately visible.

Perhaps this helps understand his perspective on photography as art practice, in that an art image can make a journalistic or documentary point ( as I believe Sectarian Murder does) but this is achieved differently. Rather than being a passive recipient of information, the viewer is an active participant in creating meaning.

So this begs the question in the course materials:

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

In response I might be over implying things but I think the meaning can remain the same and or a piece of art photography, depending on its context and narrative can also have  documentary meaning. What is perhaps different is how we arrived at the meaning, as Seawright suggests meaning is given up slowly and in some art images the meaning relies on the viewer doing some work in the interpretation.

To support this position I think the image below, by Alec Soth supports this view. Taken from his Songbook collection the image exists as a piece of art but also serves as a documentary image too.



Kelly, L. (1996) quoted in British Photography- The Hyman Collection Paul Seawright – Sectarian Murder. Found at: (Acessed May 2016)

Seawright, P. (1988) Sectarian Murder- found at: (Accessed May 2016)

Seawright, P. (2013) catalyst-Imperial War Museum found at: http:// (Accessed May 2016)

Soth, A, (2015) Songbook, Mack


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