Paul Seawright was in conversation with Professor Colin Graham at the Kerlin Gallery yesterday evening to open his exhibition Volunteer.
Seawright discussed the project, both in the context of his own practice and methodologies and global politics. His interests lie in conflict and cities. This body of work addresses recruitment for the Afghanistan war across America. The photographs are taken at recruitment centre sites across America.
Seawright spoke about how he researched and thought about this project for over a year before beginning any work on it. He discussed the long inception some projects have, and how some never make it to fruition. With this project, he was wondering how to address issues around American policy in relation to the war, and the resulting human cost, particularly in certain strata of American society.
|Navy Recruiting Centre, Post Office - Butte Montana. 1956 - Robert Frank|
He talked about how, when teaching one day, he was showing his students Robert Frank's The Americans, this photograph (above) of a Navy recruitment center came up. He knew then how he would proceed with the project. He decided to document the recruitment centres, conscious of the often controversial recruitment techniques and short timeframe between recruitment and deployment to Afghanistan. His photographs never address the centres themselves, but look back into the surrounding territory, as though the viewer is looking through the eyes of one newly recruited.
|Untitled (UPS) from the Volunteer series, 2011, Lightjet mounted on aluminium, Framed with UV Plexi-Glass, Edition 1 of 6 +AP, 99 x 124 x 5cm framed - Paul Seawright|
Graham then linked this back to Seawright's much earlier Sectarian Murder Series made in Northern Ireland in 1988. In this he photographed sites of Sectarian murders in the 1970's, which also bring the viewer firmly into the situation.
|Tuesday 30th January, 1973 from Sectarian Murder series, 1988 - Paul Seawright|
|Valley 2002 from the series Hidden, Collection Imperial War Museum - Paul Seawright|
|Valley of the Shadow of Death, 1855, Salt Print 10 7/8 x 13 3/4 in. - Roger Fenton|
He finds he works by bringing his own narrative to the places he works in, so his work is a response to the issue he is researching, not directly a response to the place. He mentioned Szarkowski when talking about photography as an editing process to support his narrative, to enable constructed meaning in the photograph.
|Untitled (Hooters) from the Volunteer series, 2011, Lightjet print mounted on aluminium, Framed with UV Plexi-glass, edition 1 of 6 +AP, 99x124x5cm framed - Paul Seawright|
Seawright discussed his Invisible Cities project in Nigeria, and he talked a little about how, inspired by Calvino's Invisible Cities, he sees cities as being made of small moments, connections and fleeting spatial relationships.
|Crossing, from the series Invisible Cities, 2005 - Paul Seawright|
Seawright also talked about how his work is always personal, even when dealing with themes very far from his own personal experience. He described how in Calvino's Invisible Cities each of the multiple cities described by Marco Polo was always his own city, Venice. In some way, Seawright feels he is always photographing Belfast and that a photographer is always photographing his or her own memories and thoughts.