Paul Graham: Some Food for Thought #1

Paul Graham is by no means an obscure artist and so there are a bunch of places online to find out more about him, his work and his publications, I am just going to highlight a few.

For starters, Graham’s website is great – featuring a good selection of images from each of his projects:

There is also an interview with Richard Woodman on the site here, it’s well worth a read but might not tell those familiar with Graham, much more information.

I love Lost in Publications, if you only head to one more page from this ‘Food for Thought’ it should most definitely be to this page, featuring ALL Graham’s various publications.

Paul Graham on 'Lost in Publications'

A much more detailed interview with Paul Graham, conducted by Aaron Schumann can be found on seesaw magazine’s website.
“That type of photography had its time, and those types of social concern are still relevant, but we’ve just got to find a fresh language to express ourselves. Today, we don’t write books as we did in 1952; authors now explore the structure of a novel and what writing now means, as well as their subject matter” (PG)

Here, Peter MacGill of Pace MacGill Gallery discusses the work of photographer Paul Graham (Focusing on ‘A Shimmer of Possibility).

Alternatively, Graham himself talks us through one of the narratives from ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’

And for those who didn’t get to see the retrospective (or mid career survey as Peter MacGill would have me say) of Graham’s work as it toured Europe, here are some reviews of his output 1981-2006:

Alastaire Sooke of The Telegraph
“The secret behind their success is that they fuse an essentially American idea with a drizzly British sensibility”

Wayne Ford of Wayne Ford!
“Graham’s work remains faithful to its documentary origins – a commitment to life as it unfolds before the photographers lens”

Jonathan Dodds of The Illiterate Knife Rack
“…the photographs strike at the feelings and rage being experienced and expressed by a whole new generation of working class people in this country.”

Gerry Badger writing for the BJP
“He never repeats himself, never stands still and, while he has certain concerns revolving broadly around the nature of the photographic document (although he rightly hates the “D” word, as he calls it), treats each new project as a beginning, approaching the medium each time from first principles”

Liz Joney of The Guardian (Review of catalogue)
“”Without the energy to interrogate yourself, you’re dead,” Graham once said, and one of his strengths as an artist is his mutability. He is constantly testing what photography is capable of.

- Matt


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5 Responses to Paul Graham: Some Food for Thought #1

  1. Stan B. says:

    FWIW, I think Troubled Land one of the greatest, most innovative documentary essays ever, and full well realize that Mr. Graham is close to a photographic demigod in many an art and documentary photo circle- and yes, who am I to say otherwise. Master photographer, innovator, educator- all well earned accolades. Nevertheless, all the above should not place anyone above criticism.

    I’m not the greatest fan of his latter work, most of it searching for a new voice, a new vision he never quite achieves, but continues to deconstruct on his journey- and it most certainly is his prerogative not to repeat himself. But I continue to ask- who without his pedigree, without his name appeal would have been able to secure a publisher (other than Blurb) to publish a book of… grain? All without question or critique- no artist, politician, or god that should be given that much of a free pass.

  2. admin says:

    Stan,
    I would tend to agree with you here. Troubled Land is the rare photobook that really can keep you coming back and finding new layers and new questions each and every time, for me the same is true of ‘A1′ and in a very different way ‘Beyond Caring’.
    His later, more conceptual work certainly doesn’t have the same gravity as these early projects but in ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’ I still find something special (can’t really out my finger on what that is though).

    The free pass is a very good question, and I think it can apply to a few photographers lately; I know it is photo-suicide to say anything against Mr R Frank but I was immensely disappointed with ‘Pangnirtung’ and suspect this 5-day documentation would not have been published by Steidl had Frank been a young and unknown author.

    I think in these cases the discussion and critique or review of the projects/books should be more transparent, otherwise these authors continue to have an aura of invisibility around them; everyone says they are fantastic but no one want to say why!
    On top of this, so many reviews now simply take the letter of the publisher as law, and in turn the publisher points people to this ‘great new review’ and the circle of photobook love-in continues. (There are of course some fantastic reviewers and photobook commentators who do not fall into the category above – Stockdale, Colberg, Claxton etc)

    Do you think Graham’s standing as an ‘Art’ photographer helps with this ‘free pass’ Stan?

    M

    • Stan B. says:

      I can only speculate, Matt. Some artists build up toward greatness in slow and steady increments then maintain a persistent level of quality throughout, others have a rather meteoric rise, and then milk it- others still, try as they might, just can’t grab the golden ring again. I don’t believe Mr. Graham a slacker by any means, he has continued to create in earnest- I just don’t think anything he’s done since his initial three books has come anywhere near that level of artistic quality, confidence and authenticity. His latter work is characterized mostly by a series of hits and misses, perusing perpetually changing waters- not unsimilar to most student work. In this respect, he very much follows the Stephen Shore mode- an initial brush with photographic immortality, followed by more “personal” explorations.

      Again, as to why the dearth of criticism (constructive or otherwise)- it’s hard to pinpoint exactly why certain artists and personalities become irreproachable darlings of the art world. Maybe, just maybe, because he was once called on how not to do documentary (B&W only, please) and having proved them wrong (big time) critics are now somewhat reticent to step up- particularly since he’s quite articulate and can sling the vernacular as good as any other art shark, and beyond. I still remember hearing him wax prolific on the benefits of “meditation pages” between images.

      Hell if I know- what I do find curious though is that even the immortals of cinema get called out whenever they lay a turkey- and it’s usually fast and furious….

  3. admin says:

    “he’s quite articulate and can sling the vernacular as good as any other art shark, and beyond. I still remember hearing him wax prolific on the benefits of “meditation pages” between images. ”
    - you’re not wrong there Stan! I’m posting these comments so more can see them, I think you have raised some really interesting points here.
    M

  4. Pingback: Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’, A Summary | The Photobook Club

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