Part One The photograph as document

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 24/02/14]
  • What is the core of his argument? Do you agree with him?
  • If we define a piece of documentary photography as art, does this change its meaning?

 This work revisited the places of sectarian attacks in the 1970s. The power of the work “lies in the shocking gulf between the details of demise of the victim and the banality of the locations” as represented by his photos and the former texts from newspaper stories of the time (Seawright 1988). Admittedly it is hard to relate the images to the text. Once I discovered that they were shot fifteen years after the events I could better understand how the pictures related to the news stories, as I could view them as aftermath photos and find meaning for them.

Having viewed Paul Seawright’s video, the core of his argument is for photography to be recognised as both art and documentary it needs to have enough narrative;  if too ambiguous then the narrative is obscured, however if too explicit then it becomes too journalistic, so it’s a fine balance. He says that the ideal is to “make work that visually engages people, that draws them in and then that gives itself up, gives its meaning slowly” (Seawright 2016).

Presenting photographs as documentary and art does pose the risk of the image not being considered a reality. However as Seawright suggests, if there is no context then there is a risk that its meaning will be changed. I think that if the image is given some context (for example location, date, or by the contents of the frame) then it will have some meaning which the reader can then extend rather than ascribe the wrong meaning.


Catalyst: Paul Seawright (2016) Available at: (Accessed: 19 October 2016).

 Paul Seawright. Sectarian murder (1988) (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 19 October 2016).


Sectarian murder (no date) Available at: (Accessed: 19 October 2016).


Sarah Pickering – Public order series

Look at some more images from this series on the artist’s website.

  • How do Pickering’s images make you feel?
  • Public Order an effective use of documentary or is it misleading?

Make some notes in your learning log.

In this series she documents, with images, a police training centre used to train the police for civil disturbances. Once you know this fact it explains the stillness and lack of people in the photographs. I would say that it is documentary if you know before you view it that the locations are mock ups and training locations, although are they usually empty like this? A truer documentary surely would be with the facilities in use with action shots, or even aftermath images – it seems too tidy.

Viewing her images makes me feel: empty, curious, uncomfortable, flat, depressed, cold, intrigued and puzzled as I’m really not sure what her intention is.


Sarah Pickering – Public order series ( accessed 7.11.16)