Published on Friday, May 20th, 2011
Belonging to a rare group of photographers representing the final generation to enter photography before it became part of the broader contemporary art world, British photographer Paul Graham
(UK, 1956) is committed to an unflinching vision of life, whether in a London dole office, in downtown Tokyo or in suburban America, taking the important role of redefining the fine art of photography and demonstrating the crucial role he himself has played in the development of photography where documentary and art coalesce. This unaffiliated grouping engaged with the medium of those artists using photography at a time when it was not simply a component in an artistís panoply, but a dedicated reflection of our world.
Grahamís photography charts his personal and creative journeys whilst reflecting socio-economic and political change from around the world. His career started by bringing to light life in hit Britain 1980s recession, from the A1 road north to London to Edinburgh. This photographic activity had a transformative effect on the black and white tradition that dominated British photography to that point, and the sectarian marked landscape of Northern Ireland. Graham then moved on to investigate historical and cultural shifts in Europe, Japan and the US in reinvigorating and expanding the photographic practice, by both broadening its visual language, and questioning how such photography might operate. He can work in big broad panoramic studies or close-to, with people or without them, indoor or outside. Yet this retrospective gives a very clear sense that his concerns have not really wavered.
The Whitechapel Galleryís exhibition presents the first major UK survey of his photographs taken over 25 years with his innovative approach rejecting the classic documentary, choosing to remix the rich history and genres, and creating a fresh and unique visual language. As a pioneer of colour photography in the UK, his challenging of the black-and-white tradition was very influential.
The exhibition, ordered around Grahamís book publications, starts with Grahamís early UK work, like The Great North Road
which charts this historic route from its starting point in the City of London, beginning with young executives outside the Bank of England, and continuing with a slow trip across the length of Britain, quietly engaging the people and places along the way. Alongside this, the í40s series Beyond Caring
and Troubled Land
are a stark portrayal of unemployment offices at the height of the 1980s recession, addressing the conventions of war and landscape photography in a group of images from Northern Ireland.
These set of photos reveal a countryside suffused with hidden elements of conflict, such as a distant Union Jack flag, soldier or political posters, which subtly reveals the struggle over the land itself. Grahamís photographs taken beyond Britain include the series New Europe
taken in the Ď80s at a time of great political change as the continent came to terms with reinventing itself despite the burden of history and Empty Heaven
, which images contrast Japanís painful memories due to the legacy of World War II with contemporary popular culture.
As a kind of edge transformation, the last part include candid portraits of young people in an anonymous European city, softly bathed in the coloured neon light of bars and clubs, or sharply delineated by the camera's flash, to build a portrait of a generation reaching adulthood on the cusp of the millennium.curated by chiara moroFrom April 20th to June 19th, 2011Paul Graham-Photographs, 1981Whitechapel Gallery, London E1Free Admissioninfo: www.whitechapelgallery.org