The View From: Perspectives on Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murder’ series.
Paul Seawright’s ‘Sectarian Murder’ series holds a pivotal place in ‘There Not There’. It is undoubtedly an emotional climax of the show, a point around which what has preceded, it and what proceeds it, gravitates. It is the sublime beauty of the images, contrasted with the brutality of the text, that gives the works its emotional sway, as does knowing how recently these devastating events took place, and the lasting impact of them. The influence of the work has certainly been far-reaching, having been displayed in over twenty countries since it was created in 1988.
As part of ‘There Not There’, four photographs from the series are presented in the context of disappearance, the impact of absence and presence on people and the world they inhabit.
The sublime nature of the photographs and their particular, unsettling quality comes principally from Seawright’s subversion of the photographic medium as a form of documentary. In preparing for and creating this series, Seawright spent long periods of times at each of the sites, in some instances re-creating the steps of the victims. This intimacy with the events certainly comes across in the variety of ways in which he has chosen to depict the scenes of the crimes. A closer look at the perspectives presented in the series of fourteen photographs shows the variety of human perspectives which Seawright has played with in order to create such an emotive and impactful series. In some it is from the perspective that the victim would have seen the scene, in others, a bystander, and still more difficult in others, that of the perpetrator.
This play on various view-points is particularly hard-hitting in ‘Tuesday, 3rd April, 1972′, where the site of the murder is documented from atop a slide. Accompanying this is the text: ‘Last night a 28 year old man disappeared from a pub. It wasn’t until this morning that his body was found abandoned in a quiet park on the coast.’ The perspective from which this quiet park is captured, as if from that of a child looking out to the sea, clashes impactfully with the text which accompanies it. The angle from which we see the scene, as if from that of a bystander, and likely a child, emphasises its simplicity, its banality, whilst never allowing us to forget the brutality that occurred there.
Seawright depicts a further mix of perspectives in ‘Tuesday, 4th December, 1972′, the text of which reads: ‘The sixteen year old youth was standing at the corner of Dandy Street talking, when a motorcycle with two youths on it drove by. The pillion passenger was carrying a Sterling sub-machine gun and opened fire on the group. The boy fell dying in a hail of bullets.’ We observe the scene as if standing, therefore we could be the victim, witnessing the motorcycle passing by, about to be shot; we could be the persecutor, standing over the scene after the fact, or we could be a bystander, looking on. The inclusion of a motorcycle in the scene creates a chilling immediacy to what is before us, a reminder of the innocuousness of the site, the ordinariness of those who were killed, and the devastation of it all.
In removing the religious affiliations from the text, and waiting time enough that they were forgotten, Seawright emphasises the human nature and tragedy of the events of the Troubles, and in presenting them in his own simultaneously beautiful and disturbing way, does his part in ensuring they never disappear from our memories.