The work of Paul Seawright ‘Sectarian Murders‘ (http://www.paulseawright.com/sectarian) is and interesting example where a photographic artist has challenged the boundaries of documentary photography by taking images that are only linked by extracts from newspaper reports and the locations in the images. The images themselves don’t offer clues to their context until the text and images are tied together. However, the photographers choices of view points creates both an interesting design element to the pictures for an art point of view and the linking text creates a context for a narrative that the viewer can construct themselves.
Seawright’s argument is that to create good documentary photography for an art gallery he must produce interesting images that do not give up their full meaning in one glance. He suggest such images are advertising or journalistic editorial images chosen for their impact. He argues that a good artist never makes plain the message in a picture and by leaving a ‘space’ in his images he allows the viewer to construct their own narrative to the images meaning. This is not a new idea, a visit to any art gallery and viewing many a painting by masters old and contemporary will demonstrate this practice in use. This is a cleaver and imaginative form of documentary photography.
I do not necessarily believe that by defining a piece of documentary work as a art will change its meaning. We can define anything as art, I think that what we currently term art is something that is considered suitable for a public display in a gallery or a book. Therefore, images of the burning Hindenburg, Neil Armstrong on the moon, a starving Ethiopian child suitable framed and displayed becomes an image of art and exhibited in a chosen context these images can build their own narrative subject to that context and the viewers own imagination.