Thursday, January 03, 2008

Paul Graham

I've mentioned Paul Graham before in relationship to his new book(s)/series A Shimmer of Possibilities, but up until now it's been hard to find much of his work online. However, thanks to Shane Lavalette I just found out that Graham now has an archive of much of his work online.

I'd say that in the early 1980's Paul Graham's colour photography was the first colour work which really had an impact on me and helped me see that there was a different way to use colour than the typical/traditional colour postcard/calendar/Amateur Photographer Magazine look.

The impact of his early work was probably even greater for me because his first three books all dealt with things that were familiar to me - but despite that personal link, his early work was pretty radical, especially compared to most other photography in the UK at that time.

A1 - Great North Road
remains a fantastic colour milestone. For some years I lived just off the A1 and often travelled this historic route north and south (the book is almost impossible to find now - I bought my copy for about £10.00 I think and later sold it for $1600.00 to help fund my Phillips 8x10 - a fair exchange...). It's just an excellent collection of pictures.

Then came Beyond Caring, a rather damning - if oblique - look at the Welfare State at the height of the bleakest of the Thatcher years in 1986. Again, this came out at the same time that I was also photographing around the whole subject of unemployment and the post-industrial milieu of North East England.

Finally there was Troubled Land in 1987 - this remains the best depiction I have yet come across of the place and state of mind of Northern Ireland while it was still in the midst of "The Troubles".

Schmidt and Joachim All these works used colour in a way that really hadn't - and still wasn't - being done in the UK before. And although his work paralleled the New Colour work of the likes of Shore and Sternfeld in the US, it was also distinctly different from it. He makes an interesting comment in an interview that he was deeply influenced by Berlin/Essen photographers such as Michael Schmidt, Joachim Brohm and Volker Heinz and through them John Gossage and Lewis Baltz who they were bringing over to Berlin at the time. A quite distinctive (and on the whole possibly more substantial) school than the ubiquitous students of Bechers in Dusseldorf.

Since then Graham has continued to work on different and distinct project from New Europe to American Night (Phaidon also published a good overview of his work a few years ago) and through to his current A Shimmer of Possibilities (hopefully he will have images from that online soon?)

"...Within four years I published three books: A1, Beyond Caring, and Troubled Land, driven by the boundless energy of youth, no doubt… but by 1987, I we had this juggernaut of color documentary photography emerging in England; it had really taken off. Martin Parr switched to color, so did people like Tom Wood, and then our students, like Paul Seawright or Richard Billingham or Nick Waplington came along. So… I felt it was time to move on from that, before it became exhausted. For example, the mixing of landscape with war photography in Troubled Land was striking and quite successful —I had shows in NYC galleries—but what happens is that you hit this resonant note and everyone wants you to repeat it. I was invited to duplicate Troubled Land in Israel and South Africa. Commissions, dollars, travel, the whole nine yards. But I thought, I can’t do this. For better or worse, I’m one of those artists who once something is “proven,” have to drop it and find another way to scare myself..."

"...RW: So you went to Europe?

PG: In the early to mid 80s I had made friends with a group of German photographers who were quite distinct from the
Becher’s Dusseldorf school. They were mostly around Essen-Berlin: Volker Heinze, Joachim Brohm, Gosbert Adler, and Michael Schmidt too, who was running these workshops in Berlin and inviting people like John Gossage and Lewis Baltz to come over.

RW: It’s funny that that school is so unknown here. Michael Schmidt even had a one-man show at MoMA.

PG: Yes, a great show and few remember it. It's as though the
Gursky show wiped out people’s under-standing of everything else in German Photography. Gursky is much more accessible. He goes for the jugular because it is about the ‘Great Photograph.’ Of course, he succeeds, but it’s recidivist, in a way. Photographers have been trying for years to make bodies of work where images work together to build up a coherent statement. It’s not about one great picture by Robert Adams; it’s about twenty or thirty pictures that form a sensitive, intelligent reflection of the world. It’s the same with Garry Winogrand, or Robert Frank. Gursky brings it back to that “wow” moment. It sort of undoes that way of working, and reduces things to the “What a great shot!” appreciation of photography. I’m a sucker for that as much as anyone, but want people to appreciate what Robert Adams does more so."

I must say I'm very much looking forward to seeing
A Shimmer of Possibles when it arrives. Graham's work has nearly always given me something new to think about.


calanan said...

I just found your blog randomly, I found this older post while searching for examples of multiple exposures - and I'm very much enjoying reading your posts.

- mike

sanzen said...

For those impatient to know the Luigi Ghirri works the best introduction to his seminal work is:
Luigi Ghirri
Federico Motta Editore
384 pages; 540 photos
26x29 centimetres
Price Euro 75,00
It was published as catalogue of a wonderful exhibition about the whole Opera of Luigi Ghirri in Reggio Emilia in 2001
You can find this book in the Federico Motta website
For others titles to complete your survey of my beloved photographer
here the link
then you will appreciate more the William Eggleston wssay :-)))))