Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’, A Summary

A really busy and enjoyable month looking at this great book with a whole bunch of contributors to whom I am extremely thankful for making it such a vibrant and lively discussion. As always, you can find the summary of our discussion below, but feel free to continue adding thoughts and questions in.

Next up on the Photobook Club is Mark Power’s ’26 Different Endings’, but before that, a short break as I am picking up the camera shortly and heading to the Cat and Fiddle road in the Peak District for several weeks to begin a project of my own. If anyone is in the area and would like to meet up for beer and books – give me a shout.

– Matt

Paul Graham’s ‘Paintings’

In my most recent post, introducing Paul Graham’s other publications, I made a blunder in not including ‘Paintings, a series of images showing scrawls, pictures and scratches in toilets stalls published in 2000.

Some of the images from the series can be seen on Graham’s website here. And I am extremely thankful to Tom Claxton of Claxton Projects for getting in touch regarding this book, and also for very kindly supplying the images below of the book spreads – thanks Tom!

Paul Graham’s ‘The Present’

Having just posted a big ol’ list of Graham’s other publications, NY-based photographer and writer Adam bell got in touch to offer his own review of the book which I have yet to see.

From Adam:
“I thought you might like the following review I wrote for The Present back in April. It appeared in The Brooklyn Rail. The link to my blog contains spreads, whereas the Rail link does not.”

Other Books by Paul Graham

‘A1: The Great North Road’ was Paul Graham’s first monograph (self-published in 1983) but was by no means his last. The following 4 years saw two more books published in almost Identical design under Grey Editions. In 1990 Graham took another look at Northern Ireland in ‘In Umbra Res’ before turning his gaze on ‘New Europe’, Japan, and most recently America in ‘American Night’ and ‘A Shimmer of Possibility’.

A full list of Graham’s monographs can be found below:

A1 The Great North Road, 1983
Paul Graham

A1: The Great North Road

Images Online:
Here, in Graham’s first publication, he documents both the physical landscape and people that inhabit the roadside service stations, rest-stops and motels of the Great North Road in order to ‘weave a picture of England in the 1980’s’.

Beyond Caring, 1986
Paul Graham

Beyond Caring

Images online:
‘Beyond Caring’ chronicles the state of employment in 80’s Britain through images made in the waiting rooms, corridors and cubicles of the department of social security and department of employment.


Trouble Land, The social landscape of Northern Ireland, 1987
Paul Graham

Troubled Land

Images Online:
Troubled Land was Graham’s last book produced in the 80’s and followed the style of the two previous publications via ‘Grey Editions’. This time examining the subtle relationship between the landscape of Northern Ireland and the ‘troubles of its society’.


In Umbra Res, 1990
Paul Graham

In Umbra Res

I have yet to see this book but there is some good information online at ‘Design for Life’ and also a video of the book from American Suburb X.

New Europe, 1993
Paul Graham

New Europe

Images Online:
‘New Europe seeks to dig beneath the utopian dream of a united continent arising to face the 21st century. Paul Graham’s photographs reflect on the inescapable shadow of history that falls over each nation’s conscience, from the dictatorships of Franco and Hitler, to the Holocaust and the Irish conflict.’ (From back cover of ‘New Europe’)

Empty Heaven, 1995
Paul Graham

Empty Heaven

Images Online:
Another book I havn’t seen but again there are good resources online. Check out two reviews/reflections by TJ Proechel or  ‘Some Pictures, Some News‘.


Paul Graham Contemporary Artists monograph, Phaidon Press, 1996
Paul Graham, Phaidon

Paul Graham

This book features a collection of Graham’s images, along with essays and an interview to provide a solid overview of his work up to 1996. The extensive interview with Gillian Wearing, is alone worth the read and to find a conversation with the great Lewis Baltz at the end of the book is a great treat.


End of an Age, 1998
Paul Graham

End of an Age

Images Online:
From the publisher: From the publisher: “End of an Age is a meditation on the transition from adolescence to adulthood at the end of the postwar order. Ultra-sharp direct flash images alternate with blurred, available-light photographs, a long, inquiring, and elegiac look at young white adults facing an uncertain future after the end of white, Western mono-culture.”

Paintings, 2000
Paul Graham

– Woops, I missed this one form the original list but there is a post on it here along with spreads from the book, with thanks to Tom Claxton.


American Night, 2003
Paul Graham

American Night

Images Online:
An examination or at least a mediation on the great divides in America. A combination of super high key images depicting subjects walking and carrying bags, and slick, saturated color images of American dream houses. It’s certainly worth a look but I got much more from an exhibition of this work than I do from the book.


A Shimmer of Possibility, 2009 (12 books in a set)
Paul Graham

A Shimmer of Possibility

Images Online:
I really have no idea how to describe these books, or what they are even about. I guess they are little snapshots of life (and lives), they are charming and fun poems or narratives which I’m sure those more literate could base thesis’ on, but for me the enjoyment is in coming to these books with no preconceived notions of greatness or enlightenment and simply watching moments unfold.

The Present, 2012
Paul Graham

The Present

I know very little of this book as it has only just launched but there is a detailed review over on the Photo-Eye blog.

– Matt


Adele Reed on ‘A1: The Great North Road’, a personal reflection

Thanks go to photographer Adele Reed for sharing her thoughts on Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’. If you would like to share your own thoughts on this book, do so in the comments section below or to me via email.

Graham’s portrait of this historically endearing straight-forward British system is poignant in many ways. The moments he captured and brought away from the culture along the road are portrayed in a candid, sympathetic and honest manner, serving tribute to working class Britain, their collective apathy of the eighties, and the despondent neglect the road suffered during these times. Rupert Martin wrote in an essay published as an introduction to the series that Graham illustrated the ‘kind of self-sufficient melancholy’ of the people – who somehow seem downtrodden but proud of their society.


For me it’s a heartfelt and warm testament to the salt of the Earth, the genuine, honest members of our nation who keep the cogs turning, who support the road, and who the road supports back. Cafe interiors crumble into decay but a charm withstands: vibrantly painted walls and garish patterned curtains reflect fashions and a flamboyancy our country should be proud of. I feel a deep affection for our provincial towns whilst viewing the images.

Adele Reed



And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Paul Graham’s British Road Trip

The A1 road for those who know it, or know the book, doesn’t exactly conjure up thoughts of a road trip or road trip aesthetic. There are no dessert vista’s here, no vast stretches of road ahead and behind. This is most certainly not the orange-tinted views of Wim Wenders or Stephen Shore as they pass through El Passo and Nevada, neither does it evoke thoughts of Kerouac or Pirsig’s prose.


This isn’t to say we do not recognize some of the conventions of the genre in the images, particularly in the diners, cafes and petrol stations, but Graham has also weaved a decidedly British streak into the book. Bright blue skies give way to overcast days and wet roads, neon is only seen once, and all in all, this is a much more subdued photographic approach. No fanfare will be found here, just a well paced, expertly edited series of images, and in this I find myself looking harder, and for longer.


What lies at the heart of this book (to myself at least) and does conform to the road genre is the human encounters Graham has documented along the A1. These are all characters we recognise, they are the hundred of people we see in the car alongside, or in the adjacent cubicle at a restaurant and if you are anything like me, you wonder about why they are here, now, or what it is they do and why they do it. Almost all of the subjects in ‘A1’ hold the camera’s gaze back, I like to think they are looking at Graham, or at me, wondering exactly the same things.


Interestingly, while we see life from the road, cafe’s and fields going by, even pulling up to a petrol station, we are never inside the car. It is at first an odd omission, especially compared to the more well known photography from the US dealing with the road, it’s landscape and it’s stories. But in doing so Graham remains very much a traditional documentarian, slightly removed from each situation he encounters unlike his Stateside contemporaries. The result is another reason this is such an important and unique piece in the ever expanding road photography genre.

– Matt

And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Benoit Grimbert’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’

After looking at Phil Coomes’ ‘Recession Road’, I would like to share another project which retraces (to an extent) the footsteps of Paul Graham.
My thanks to Sebastian Arthur Hau for pointing me in the direction of this project by Benoit Grimbert and my thanks also Benoit who has contributed some text on the project and of Graham’s influence.

To see the complete series by Grimbert, head over here. And if you would like to compare the two, I have included the video showing Graham’s work below.


Benoit Grimbert - North London, Apex Corner

The first Paul Graham photographs I saw were images taken from his ‘Troubled Land‘ series. I was about twenty, and I remember the impression of contemporaneity and novelty (in comparison with other photographers working at that time in the field of landscape photography) that these subtle colored images produced on me. I also remember that they vaguely seem to me as specifically European, even if they may also be considered as a kind of response to the most recent American landscape photography (I think in particular of Stephen Shore and William Eggleston). This fact never stopped his images stimulating me, and I still look at his series (‘A Shimmer of Possibility‘ included) as works which synthesized both the american and european
photographic approaches.

Benoit Grimbert - Wyboston, I

Much later, I was deeply impressed by another work, as a book : ‘A1, The Great North Road‘. Having the book in my hands, the entire series – the photograph on the cover in particular – operated as a sort of appeal. Appeal of an unpredictable road trip to the North, which was absolutely not defined, and then the appeal of taking photographs – the strength of the images and of the imagination. The fact that I did not really know the road contributed to make it worthy of interest. If Paul Graham photographed this road partly on the basis of his childhood memories, I will do it under the impression of a pure representation, it would be a photographic one. Therefore, the point was not for me to follow in his footsteps, in the search of the possible traces of what was depicted in the book. This series just worked as the driving force behind me, and the framework became quite conceptual – from a material point of view : a road, The Great North Road, with a beginning and an end, clearly identifiable ; from a representative point of view : a series of 40 photographs, placed according to the geographical order of the road – the content and the form of the photographs following my own photographic approach.

Benoit Grimbert - South Witham

I had my first trip by car along the A1 in October 2008. There was a second trip in
December 2008, and a third in March 2009. Without any particular intention, I drove this road, leaving it each time I was attracted by something I had saw on its sides. Sometimes, the photograph was made quite quickly, but most of the time, it took me several hours to find the appropriate place to make it. At any time, the photograph, although very composed, was literally “unexpected”.

– Benoît Grimbert

Phil Coomes on ‘A1: The Great North Road’, a personal reflection

Really pleased to be sharing this reflection on the Photobook Club! Just the other day we looked at a road trip taken by the BBC’s Phil Coomes and Paula Dear which referenced Paul Graham’s book, now a big thanks to Phil for contributing this reflection;

“Great to see you are looking at Paul Graham’s Great North Road book, I think it’s one of the most important series to have been shot in the UK. Every frame tells a story and yet is also a visual delight, and of course the work as a whole provides a strong social comment on the time. Now of course it comes with a dollop of nostalgia as well.

As you mentioned we used it as a jumping off point for our recession road project in 2009, though in reality we were on a very different mission, with tight deadlines and a financial story to wrap around it –where the story led, as opposed to the pictures. But it would be fair to say my colleague Paula and I carried these frames in our head as we headed north. What did we find? Well, another country from the one in Paul’s book, that’s for sure, though there were some similarities and given time they could be teased out, but sadly we had just five days on the road.”

– Phil Coomes



26 Years Later: The Great North Road Trip

In 2009, ‘traff’ of the Culture Republic blog said that:

It would be an interesting exercise to make the journey in current times and see what changes have been wrought.  One would imagine there would be new freeways, big box retail and neon-lit ‘service centres’, yet still the same air of suburban angst and hopelessness faintly lingering.

Luckily Phil Coomes of the BBC’s ‘Viewfinder’ blog seemed to have the same interest and in September of 2009 embarked upon ‘The Great North Road Trip’.


The idea was to travel the road in search of stories on the recession, just like Graham, Coomes’ choice to follow the A1(M) meant a swift dissection of England from the wealthy city of London, through industrial and post-industrial towns of the midlands and on towards Scotland.

While Coomes’ refers to Graham’s work on a couple of occasions, it is not a complete retracing of locations or ‘After A1: The Great North Road’ style project. It is however a well thought out project in it’s own right and as an archive of a time period is very interesting. I have archived all the posts in the lists below.


There is an audio slideshow created by Phil Coomes and Paula Dear that sums up the weeks travel, hearing direct from the public who have spoken to Coomes adds some weight to the piece and makes me wonder what Graham’s subjects would have spoken about, given the opportunity.


– Matt
And if you haven’t seen the book yet…

Paul Graham’s ‘A1: The Great North Road’ and Memory Pairings

A wee while ago when looking at Stephen Shore’s ‘Uncommon Places’ I posted a few image pairings I couldn’t help making as I looked through the book. I enjoyed it and so decided to do it again, as before the pairings seem to be made primarily based on work I have seen or revisited recently…

Paul Graham and Joel Sternfeld

Paul Graham
‘Burning Fields, Melmerby, North Yorkshire, September 1981′

Joel Sternfeld
McLean, Virginia December 4, 1978′


Paul Graham and Paul Graham

Paul Graham
‘Petrol Station, Blyth Services, Nottinghamshire, March 1981′

Paul Graham
‘from the series ‘Troubled Land‘ 1984-86


Paul Graham and Joel Sternfeld and Daniel Shea

Paul Graham
‘Hedge in wind, Bedfordshire, June 1982′

Joel Sternfeld
‘The East Meadows, Northampton, Massachusetts 2006′

Daniel Shea
‘Smoke Stacks, 2009′ from the series ‘Coal Work

Paul Graham and Donald Webber

Paul Graham
‘Ashtray on Table, Morley’s Cafe, Markham Moor, Nottinghamshire, February 1981′

Donald Webber
From the series ‘Interrogations


Paul Graham and Hanna Starkey

Paul Graham
‘Cafe Waitress, John’s Cafe, Sandy, Bedfordshire, May 1982′

Hannah Starkey
‘Untitled, October 1988′


Hope you enjoy my little experiment, if you have your own, put them in the comments section below…

– Matt
And if you haven’t seen the book yet…