Portfolio: Paul Graham

From the project “New Europe" - Photo by Paul Graham

From the project “New Europe" - Photo by Paul Graham

   Winner Of W. Eugene Smith Award 1988

New Europe

New Europe seeks to dig beneath the utopian dream of a united continent arising to face the dawn of 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. Thus burden is interwoven with a questioning of the banality of modern day consumption-led culture. Neither a narrative nor a conventional documentary, this body of photographs builds into a visual poem that resonates across the social and psychological landscape of Europe today.

Paul Graham

Paul Graham (UK, 1956) belongs to a rare group of photographers that were the final generation to enter photography before it became part of the broader contemporary art world. Whilst later image makers would approach the medium as ‘artists using photography’, this unaffiliated grouping – which includes Nan Goldin, Andreas Gursky, Rineke Djikstra, Thomas Struth and Philip-Lorca DiCorcia – engaged with the medium at a time when it was not simply a component in an artists’ panoply, but a dedicated reflection of our world.

In the early 1980’s Graham was among the first photographers to unite contemporary colour practise with the ‘documentary’ genre. In 1981/2 he completed ‘A1 – The Great North Road‘, a series of colour photographs from the length of the British A1 road, which had a transformative effect on the black and white tradition that dominated British photography to that point. This work, along with his other photographs of the 1980’s – the colour images of unemployment offices in ‘Beyond Caring‘ (1984-85), and the sectarian marked landscape of Northern Ireland in ‘Troubled Land‘ (1984-86) – were pivotal in reinvigorating and expanding this area of photographic practice, by both broadening it’s visual language, and questioning how such photography might operate. Photographers such as Martin Parr moved to colour soon after, and a new school of British Photography evolved with the subsequent colour work of Richard Billingham, Tom Wood, Paul Seawright, Anna Fox, Simon Norfolk, Nick Waplington, etc.

Since then Graham moved outside of his UK roots, but continued to explore the fertile territory where the descriptive and artistic aspects of photography coalesce, often tackling difficult subject matter for a medium that engages with the observable world. ‘New Europe‘ (1988-1993) used a poetic flow of images to look at the tension between the shadow of history and the rush to an economic superstate in Western Europe. ‘Empty Heaven‘ (1989-1995), considers the relationship between historical trauma and the child-like fantasy world in Japan – themes that would later become central to the “Superflat” movement of contemporary Japanese art. More recently his work has reflected an examination of what we expect from a photographic image, be it a portrait – as in the hard:soft images of young people in ‘End of an Age‘ (1996-98); or what actually registers in our consciousness with ‘American Night‘ (1998-2003), which reflected the landscape and social fracture of America through overexposed, near invisible white images. More recently Graham completed ‘a shimmer of possibility‘ (2004-2006) that embraces overlooked moments of life in todays United States, whilst also examining photography’s ability to compress or expand time, through flowing sequences of images.

Paul Graham is a London-based photographer who was awarded the 1988 Grant for his project “New Europe.” It was an attempt to depict the major problems of contemporary Western Europe and their future implications. This is the first major Grant to be awarded to a project in color.

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