Monday, May 23, 2011

Paul Seawright - a photographer of place

One photographer worth looking at when one considers place is surely Paul Seawright.

I first became aware of his work when he showed images of places connected with the sectarian murders of Northern Ireland.

The photographs were mysterious by nature while the fact that they were connected to an event gave them a certain impetus.

The next two photographs are from

Paul Seawright is a leading photographer and artist from Belfast, where his early work was made; he has subsequently worked in Afghanistan and urban Africa. He was the first editor of Source magazine and is Professor of Photography at the University of Ulster. 

"Photography brings him to places where he can find himself, paradoxically by losing himself. Seawright is good at making himself invisible. Other photographers who travel to places of conflict and poverty often leave the viewer pondering the inescapable question of how they felt as they pressed the shutter. Throughout his career, Seawright has worked towards negating his presence. Often he achieves this so completely that viewers feel they are the only ones witnessing the scene. It's an expert illusion." - Christin Leach, Sunday Times

One can see more of Seawright's work through his website ...

If I did do a series of images about Thomas Hardy's The Woodlanders, a quote from the book would be a powerful caption that would enhance any interest in the photograph.

I wonder about this approach to photography in which the caption is such an important part of the image; taken alone, these images may be meaningless. Yet the words make the images relevant and give them a wider meaning as well as narrative.

Have downloaded a PDF which discusses his work.

Seawright includes the following quote ...

Just as none of us is outside or beyond geography, none of us is completely
free from the struggle over geography. That struggle is complex and interesting
because it is not only about soldiers and canons but also about ideas, about
forms, about images and imaginings.
Edward Said

Here is text from that document written by Christoph Ruys ...

In exploring aspects of his own identity as someone with a Protestant background
in Ireland and the defence mechanisms and defensive celebrations of that community
which articulate a need for authority and control, Seawright has drawn
on a reservoir of meaning that is actually universal. He has taken the exploration
beyond the theatricality of the cultural /political rituals involved in parades and
marches, manifestations of law and order to sectarian murder in the specific context
of Northern Ireland and connects to a wider reality. It is on this level that his work
is universally legible.

comments on Seawright from Justin Carville

His landscapes are not traditional, do not pander to exoticised imagery typical of that to which we have become accustomed.

Turning the familiar into the unfamiliar !?

Lack of evidence

requires the viewer to rethink their experience of the photographic image

obscure representation of landscape

absence from the frame of what the photograph is meant to be about

"The Sectarian Murder series is important in the context of Seawight’s
later work because although people are often absent from his photographs, or
their bodies have been truncated by the pictorial space of the image, his work draws
in the human dimension of claims to dominance over geographical territory."

Some of his photographs are easier to understand than others. One I like is called Between V11, Wales, 2003 and shows only black and red colouration yet the outline of a mountainside is visible while a red streak on a black mountainside indicates the backlights of a car.

On the whole though, Seawright's photography is conceptual like a lot of art photography and I find it hard to understand.

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