Photographer Paul Seawright and Director Alan Clarke have both made interpretations of the sectarian murders which took place during the 1970s in Northern Ireland. I was interested to see how the two individuals approached their own interpretation using the two mediums of photography and film.
Paul Seawright’s Sectarian murder is a series of colour photographic images of the re-visited murder sites accompanied by text captions taken from newspaper reports with references to any specific religious belief deleted. The images are deeply poignant and I felt compelled to reflect upon and reconsider the horrific act of murder in the name of religion and worse still to lose one’s life because of religious belief.
We have I believe gained what Susan Sontag terms disaster fatigue (?) when reading or listening to documentary news stories. By isolating the text and combining it with the photographs to make an art form Paul Seawright creates a deep and significant emotional impact which merely grew the longer the images were viewed.
Deleting any references of religion from the text adds to the sense of the futility of the original crimes. A needlessness which Seawright again achieves by revealing the murder sites in the aftermath as they return back to their usual function of playgrounds and beauty spots.
The only question mark that I would raise is his use of shallow depth of field and foreground objects, which are employed in certain images but not others. I felt that this is a distraction and inconsistency for the viewer and could be considered as un-necessary.
Earlier in the course I had probably considered that moving documentary work into the realms of the art gallery would in some way detract from the original purpose. I would now change this view and believe that documentary can certainly be developed as an art form in it’s own and to achieve it’s original objectives.
This is the second time that I have considered Paul Seawright’s Sectarian murders and all in all I find his work to be extremely moving and artistically executed.
Alan Clarke’s Elephant is a film of 39 minutes with virtually no speaking so the soundtrack consists of the everyday noises of the traffic, the door bell, the wind blowing with the ordinariness disrupted only by the sound of gunshot ringing out.
The film is constructed of a series of episodes which flow from one to another each showing a different re-enactment of a murder. The gunman enters the scene he approaches his victim and shoots his victim dead then leaves the scene of the crime. The camera lingers on the dead body for several seconds before moving straight into the next scene following the exact same routine. It is a brutal depiction leaving nothing to the viewer’s imagination.
The techniques used by the director includes the grainy colour film which recreates the feel of the 1970s, the camera view at eye level which follows the steps of the killer as they search for their victims the ordinariness of the soundtrack, the repetitive and routine nature of the killings. The result is the creation of a front row first hand experience for the viewer, who becomes a witness to the crime creating a truly shocking experience.
Neither Alan Clarke or Paul Seawright make any reference to the religious beliefs of either the murderers or those murdered but this is the only similarity. In Sectarian murder we can sense the futility of the violence in Elephant we sense only lawless brutality.
These are two completely different interpretations of the same events and information fundamentally different from artistic perspectives more than differences in the medium employed.
Both very successful in their own right I probably prefer Paul Seawright’s work which by using art in a reflective poignant manner to communicate it’s message I believe that he offers the viewer an opportunity to reflect upon a wider range of thoughts. I believe Alan Clarke offers less of an opportunity as his is a shocking and brutal offering which is almost as inhumane as the killings they depict leaving the viewer with almost no emotion left to think.
I was also surprised to find that Paul Seawright made Sectarian murder in 1988 which I thought had been made at least 10 years later but also that Alan Clarke made Elephant in 1989 which I had expected to have been made much earlier.