Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text Documentary Inspiration

Martin Parr

Martin Parr (born 1952) trained in photography at Manchester Polytechnic.

Described in the past as Margaret Thatcher’s favourite  photographer, Parr caused a stir when he tried to join

Magnum Photos. The issue was one of integrity. Photographers within Magnum’s ranks guarded their territory jealously and felt that the work that Parr offered was voyeuristic, titillating and
meaningless. Parr was eventually accepted at Magnum in 1994 and went on to become one of the leading authorities on photography in the UK.

Parr has an ability to turn the snapshot into art. There is however something of the satirical about this work – many of the images raise a smile. Parr worked mainly in colour and his approach was to over-light with fill-in flash, causing a frozen moment in time to be even more false yet far more real.  His work is quirky and opportunistic. He makes no bones about the latter; invited to an event, he takes the opportunity to produce images that will lead to further projects. His approach is direct. He doesn’t ask permission and if someone sees that he is photographing them he will continue on the basis that it’s his job to photograph them, record their reaction, etc. The characteristic Parr style is still there 30 years on.

Listen to Martin Parr talking about his images and practice:

 

Parr has produced a wide range of work.

  • Last Resort: Photographs of New Brighton (1986). One of his first
    major colour pieces.This style was to become synonymous with Parr and his ability to create from the ordinary. The little girl could be the focus of the image but the boy is also interesting. The car and the lighthouse are both essential to the composition.
  • A recent project in the suburbs of Paris depicts ordinary
    life within a diverse, mainly immigrant, community.
  • St Moritz series shows the rich at play in a way that only people who work there would normally get to see.
  • Luxury – a recent Martin Parr project where he looks at the rich and their pastimes.

The Parrworld (2008) show exhibited some of Parr’s extensive collection of kitsch souvenirs and other disparate paraphernalia: a watches with pictures of Bin Laden and Saddam Hussein, bubblegum pop pin-up wallpaper. He compares photography to collecting: the world is out there for the having.

Parr has edited three volumes of his collections of postcards:

  • Boring Postcards (1999)
  • Boring Postcards USA (2000)
  • Langweilige Postkarten (2001).

The subjects within Boring Postcards are what we judge to be mundane or prosaic, such as motorways, service stations, tower blocks, school and other modernist municipal buildings – structures that we take for granted and might even consider to be ‘eyesores’. They weren’t necessarily photographed for their beauty in any traditional sense, but because of their novelty value as photographic subjects. [Many of the images in the UK edition are attributed to the Frith photographic company.] They are in fact often quite unusual and remarkably intriguing.

 Exercise: Getting the Parr ‘feel’

For this exercise, photograph people engaged in a fun or social activity outdoors. For example, you could go to a seaside resort and photograph people having a good time. Or photograph people at an outdoor party or function. Try to capture the Martin Parr ‘feel’.
Use your camera flash or a flash gun to balance the daylight. You need to take light readings from the ambient light and then set the flash gun to produce a small amount of flash – not enough to turn the scene into night – running the camera at a slower speed than the flash would normally synch at.
Getting the flash /ambient light balance right is the key to the technical side of the whole look.
This is the camera’s reaction under normal circumstances. A slower shutter speed than the recommended flash setting may help a lot.
This will work very differently for a range of cameras and you may need individual support and advice for this relative to your personal camera equipment.
Produce a set of eight colour images. Ensure that the colour is bright and reflects the nature of Martin Parr’s work. How does this lighting effect change the nature of your images? Make
some notes in your learning log.

Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text 4: Landscape Identities 5: Resolution 6: Transitions Documentary Inspiration

Paul Seawright

Paul Seawright is best known for his ‘late photography’ of battle-sites and minefields. He often uses vintage technology and a much older approaches to conflict photography. But rather than reportage, his images are made for museum-going audiences and gallery patrons by people who call themselves ‘artists’.

website

If it is too explicit it becomes journalistic. If it is too ambiguous, it becomes meaningless…The constriction of meaning is done by the person looking at it. The artist has to leave space for that’

‘Paul Seawright, Voice Our Concern Artist’s Lecture 2010’ is a 40 minute illustrated artists lecture by the artist photographer Paul Seawright given in the Irish Museum of Modern Art (IMMA) in November 2010. Paul talks about the use of photography in conflict situations as often being unreliable and how his work as a photographic artist is a response to this. He presents photographs from the Crimean war and discusses the influence of photographer Paul Graham on his work. He describes the difference between photo journalism and art in the context of artists defining their subjects and in the construction of meaning. He goes on to discuss and present examples of his Sectarian Murder Work series. This Voice Our Concern lecture was a joint project organised by IMMA and Amnesty International Ireland.

The Forest 2001

17 photographs of desolate roadside lay-bys, ditches and car parks shot at night and lit by what we assume to be streetlights. By day they would probably be ordinary, but at night with the lighting they take on a sinister tone (like images we are used to seeing in detective TV series). ‘Because there is such a division between what we can see and what we cannot see (the fall off of the light does not allow for much penetration into the forest edge) what belongs there (the trees, underbrush and roadside curbs) and what doesn’t belong there (us), these are photographs that place the viewer into the shoes of the vulnerable’ (Paul Seawright’s website)

Hidden (2002)

In 2002 Seawright was commissioned by the Imperial War Museum London to undertake a war art commission in Afghanistan.In spite of the climate in which they were made, have a cool, Becher-like objectivity to them. Tension is created by concealing as much as is revealed in the photographs and their caption. Through unorthodox framing, selective focusing in places, and at times seemingly banal viewpoints, there is a palpable sense of unease in this landscape that is strewn with concealed lethal hazards. For example another image shows recently dug up mines – done by hand because they cannot be identified with mine detectors against the rest of the iron in the land., as well as America’s most wanted outlaw, who would take a further nine years to track down. His photograph of shells in Afghanistan explicitly echoes Fenton’s famous image from the Crimea.

For some of the main images and reviews (eg John Stathatos) see: http://www.paulseawright.com/hidden/

Invisible Cities 2007   

after Italo Calvino book.

Seawright travelled to major cities in sub-Saharan Africa, exploring communities on the edge of conurbations, both geographically and socially. Comprises varied photographs, some of which are recognisable as landscape pictures, or environmental portraiture. None of the titles of the photographs refer to specific locations or people, which emphasises the indistinct nature and anonymity of these places and their inhabitants.

Bridge (2006) the road bridge, presumably an interchange of major roads on the edge of the city, cleanly divides the frame in two. A yellow bus heads along the road towards the city from, we suppose, the sanctuary of the suburbs, taking children to school or their parents to work. The sky is empty and bleak, echoed by the detritus that sprawls below, shielded by the flyover from the view of the bus’s passengers.

Things Left Unsaid

Biography

Paul Seawright is Professor of Photography and Head of Belfast School of Art at the University of Ulster. His photographic work is held in many museum collections including The Irish Museum of Modern Art, Tate, San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, International Centre of Photography New York, Arts Councils of Ireland, England and N.Ireland, UK Government Collection and the Museum of Contemporary Art Rome. They have also been exhibited in Spain, France, Germany, Korea, Japan and China.  In 2003 he represented Wales at the Venice Biennale of Art and in 1997 won the Irish Museum of Modern Art/Glen Dimplex Prize. He is represented by the Kerlin Gallery Dublin.

Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text

Francis Frith

Francis Frith postcards website

edited from Wikipedia article

Francis Frith Images

Francis Frith  (1822 –1898) was an English photographer of the Middle East and many towns in the United Kingdom. Frith was born in Chesterfield, Derbyshire.  In 1850 he started a photographic studio in Liverpool, known as Frith & Hayward. A successful grocer, and later, printer, Frith fostered an interest in photography, becoming a founding member of the Liverpool Photographic Society in 1853. Frith sold his companies in 1855 in order to dedicate himself entirely to photography.

Frith was “recorded” as a Quaker minister in 1872 (at this time there were little more than 250 recorded ministers in England and Wales). He served on numerous committees, and frequently spoke in favour of pacifism and abstinence.  In 1884, he published (with William Pollard and William Turner) A Reasonable Faith, a highly controversial pamphlet which challenged evangelical orthodoxy by questioning the factuality of the Bible. Francis Frith and his co-authors who began the liberalisation of the Quaker movement and paved the way for the philanthropic and educational reforms for which the movement is well known today.

Middle East Travels

He journeyed to the Middle East on three occasions, the first of which was a trip to Egypt in 1856 with very large cameras (16″ x 20″). He used the collodion process, a major technical achievement in hot and dusty conditions.

During his travels he noted that tourists were the main consumers of the views of Italy, but armchair travellers bought scenes from other parts of the world in the hope of obtaining a true record, “far beyond anything that is in the power of the most accomplished artist to transfer to his canvas.” These words express the ambitious goal that Frith set for himself when he departed on his first trip to the Nile Valley in 1856.

Restored albumen print of the Suez Canal at Ismailia, c. 1860

The Hypaethral Temple, Philae, by Francis Frith, 1857; from the collection of the National Galleries of Scotland

 

He also made two other trips before 1860, extending his photo-taking to Palestine and Syria.

In addition to photography, he also kept a journal during his travels elaborating on the difficulties of the trip, commenting on the “smothering little tent” and the collodion fizzing – boiling up over the glass. Frith also noticed the compositional problems regarding the point of view from the camera. According to Frith, “the difficulty of getting a view satisfactorily in the camera: foregrounds are especially perverse; distance too near or too far; the falling away of the ground; the intervention of some brick wall or other common object… Oh what pictures we would make if we could command our point of views.” An image he took known as the “Approach to Philae” is just one example which elaborates his ability to find refreshing photographic solutions to these problems. (cited from “A World History of Photography”)

Survey of Britain and Francis Frith & Co. 

When he had finished his travels in the Middle East in 1859, he opened the firm of Francis Frith & Co. in Reigate, Surrey, as the world’s first specialist photographic and postcard publisher, a firm that became one of the largest photographic studios in the world. In 1860, he married Mary Ann Rosling (sister of Alfred Rosling, the first treasurer of the Photographic Society).

The same year he embarked upon a colossal project—to photograph every city, town and village in the United Kingdom; in particular, notable historical or interesting sights. Initially he took the photographs himself, but as success came, he hired people to help him. Frith’s ‘views’ were predominantly of places with social or historical significance but also included a great number of more mundane but equally valuable street scenes.

Frith died in Cannes, France at his villa on 25 February 1898.

The ten-part BBC series Britain’s First Photo Album, presented by John Sergeant, was first shown on BBC2 in March 2012 and takes a look at the history of Francis Frith’s pioneering photographic work. A 320 page book also entitled Britain’s First Photo Album has been published. The Frith and Co. brand continues today, and it’s possible to purchase prints and other merchandise from the online store.

Graham Clark (1997, p.73) remarks:
“… the landscape photograph implies the act of looking as a privileged observer so that, in one sense, the photographer of landscapes is always the tourist, and invariably the outsider. Francis Frith’s images of Egypt, for example, for all their concern with foreign lands, retain the perspective of an Englishman looking out over the land. Above all, landscape photography insists on the land as spectacle and involves an element of pleasure.”

 

Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text

James Morris

In Wales, particularly South Wales, the idea of ‘post-industry’ is poignant in the light of the well-documented, widespread decline in industrial activity in recent decades.

In A Landscape of Wales (2010), James Morris explores the diverse landscape of the country, including the Gothic-looking remains of slate quarries and other sublime-inspiring features. Most interestingly, Morris looks at how the tourism and heritage industries, which continue to play a major part in the Welsh economy, relate to the landscape. Morris provides an excellent example of the inextricable link between topography and industry, which have in turn shaped the identity of a place and its people.  (Alexander course text p105)

See Google Images

See more from this series at:
http://www.jamesmorris.info   (Flash-based site)

Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text

John Davies

John Davies website

See more of Davies’s work

John Davies (born 1949 in Sedgefield, County Durham, England) is a British landscape photographer. He is known for completing long-term projects documenting Britain and its industrial and urban landscape. He juxtaposes elements of history, industry and social activity within a single composition to critically examine our social geography.

The British Landscape is his best-known body of work

Fuji City Mount Fuji, Japan is a meditation on the balance between nature and industry.

The shift in subject matter also developed into a fascination with urban regeneration and work on this includes his Metropoli Project, City State, and Cities on the Edge, the latter of which he curated, in addition to contributing images of his own.

Not judgemental – ask questions. People have different reactions to different images. Doesn’t include many people, but images are about what people have done in the environment.

The caption to Davies’s Ffestiniog Railway image reads:
“The Ffestiniog Railway was originally built to transport local slate, but in
1964, following new connections to the national railway network, trains
began serving the Trawsfynydd nuclear power station. Although the
decommissioning of Trawsfynydd began in 1991, the railway continued
to be used daily to transport 50-ton flasks of nuclear fuel and waste to
the Sellafield reprocessing plant in Cumbria. Sellafield stopped taking
waste from Trawsfynydd in 1997.”

Technique

He is known for producing large photographic prints of images produced from high vantage points, using traditional darkroom techniques. His work in the 1980s primarily used medium format cameras, and work from the 1990s alarge format camera, although in recent years he has begun using dSLR and digital medium format cameras in his work as well.

The stylistic components reference – with irony – the picturesque:

  • Davies’s photographs are nearly always taken from high vantage points that hint towards a welltrodden, formalised ‘viewpoint’, looking out across views with foregrounds, middle distance and backgrounds (usually a rolling hill).
  • He continues to work with black-and-white film, linking his work to the classical aesthetics of Adams and Weston.

Liz Wells (2011, pp.170–71) identifies a potential problem with Davies’s relation to the picturesque:
“… his work operates as a visual archive of post-industrial Britain. But his personal style is so marked that content risks becoming subservient within a generalised vision of industrial legacy in ways that work against any sense of the specificity of each site. There is a risk that political commentary is diluted rather than distilled, as the industrial becomes a strand within a new picturesque.”

Biography

Davies was born in Sedgefield, County Durham, in 1949. He grew up in coal mining and farming communities, and this combination of open space and industry was to become a persistent motif in his creative work. His early life was spent living in industrial landscapes in County Durham and Nottinghamshire.

He studied Photography, first attending Mansfield School of Art to complete a Foundation Course, then studying at Trent Polytechnic (now Nottingham Trent University), graduating in 1974. Following this, he began working on long-term projects, seeking commissions and arts funding to support his work. He has worked closely with Amber/Side Collective on a number of commissions. In 1981, Davies won a one-year Photography Fellowship at Sheffield Polytechnic, and he became Senior Research Fellow at the Art School of University of Wales Cardiff (UWIC) in 1995.

He has also become involved in local politics, as his interest in the use of public space has been both personal and professional. He lives with his partner and their daughter Alix in Liverpool, England.

Books by Davies

  • Aggie Weston’s no.13. Belper, Derbyshire: Stuart Mills, 1977 ASIN B0007C4X2C.
  • The Valleys project. Cardiff: Ffotogallery, 1985.
  • On the edge of White Peak. Derbyshire Museum Services, UK, 1985.
  • In the wake of King Cotton. Rochdale Art Gallery, UK, 1986.
  • Mist Mountain Water Wind. London: Traveling Light, 1986. ISBN 0-906333-18-0.
  • A Green & Pleasant Land. Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1987. ISBN 0-948797-10-X soft cover ISBN 0-948797-15-0.
  • Autoroute A26, Calais – Reims. Douchy, France: Mission Photogaphique Transmanche, 1989. ISBN 2-904538-16-X.
  • Phase 11 (eleven). London: The Photographers’ Gallery; London: Davenport, 1991. ISBN 0-907879-27-6.
  • Broadgate. London: Davenport, 1991.
  • Cross Currents. Cardiff: Ffotogallery; Manchester: Cornerhouse, 1992. ISBN 0-948797-32-0.
  • Linea di Confine della Provincia di Reggio Emillia Laboratorio di Fotografia 5. Arcadia Edizioni & Assessorato alla Cultra del Comune di Rubiera, Italy, 1992.
  • Skylines. Valencia University, Imp. Mari Montanana, Spain, 1993.
  • Through fire and water: River Taff. Oriel (The Arts Council of Wales’ Gallery, Cardiff); National Museum & Galleries of Wales, 1997. ISBN 0-946329-45-1.
  • Sguardigardesani. Milan, Italy: Charta, 1999. ISBN 88-8158-223-6.
  • Temps et Paysage. Tarabuste / Centre d’art et du Paysage, 2000. ISBN 2-84587-010-8.
  • Visa III, Littoral / Le retour de la nature. Filigranes, 2001. ISBN 2-914381-17-4.
  • Seine Valley. Le Point du Jour Editeur / Pole Image Haute-Normandie, France, 2002. ISBN 2-912132-21-5.
  • The British Landscape. Chris Boot, 2006. ISBN 0-9546894-7-X.
  • Cities on the Edge. Liverpool: Liverpool University, 2008. ISBN 978-1-84631-186-4.
  • Urban Landscapes / Krajobrazy Miejskie. Poznań, Poland: Centrum Kultury ‘Zamek’, 2008.
  • European Eyes on Japan / Japan Today volume 10. EU-Japan fest / European Eyes on Japan, 2008.
Categories
3: Landscape as Political Text

Peter Kane

Significant Space (2005)

See some of the images

As part of the resolution to his Photography degree, Peter Kane revisited places depicted in his family’s photo album, which included himself as a boy. He travelled back to particular locations – some specific landmarks, others more non-descript parts of the landscape – and re-photographed the space according to the composition of the original photograph.

In the bottom left of the frame of Kane’s new images, he holds the original photograph. The inclusion of Kane’s hand makes a physical connection between himself and the photograph. This is in sharp focus, and the space beyond, which he has revisited, falls out of focus. On a visual level, this split between the two focal planes instantly draws the viewer to the ‘vintage’ photograph. This strategy creates a deliberate dichotomy between the photograph that Kane presents – literally from his own ‘point of view’ – and the scenery beyond. It is as if the actual space beyond is eclipsed; it has lost its relevance and no longer bears any relation to Kane’s actual sense of the place.

(Alexander 2013 p107)

(I could not find anything more on the web.)

 

 

Categories
2: Landscape as Journey Inspiration

Liz Nicol

In the Rubber Band Project (1997), Liz Nicol collaborated with her young son to make a body of work around the streets close to their home. Nicol’s son noticed and started collecting the rubber bands discarded by postmen on their deliveries. The pair began to set aside the bands collected on each day of the school run over a period of a year. Nicol then recorded the bands using the cyanotype process. This is one of the earliest and simplest photographic printing techniques and is particularly associated with the botanical contact prints of Anna Atkins (1799–1871). [Atkins’s prints were compiled in Photographs of British Algae: Cyanotype Impressions (1843), considered to be the first book to be illustrated with photographs.] As Nicol describes:“The ‘cyanotypes’, are like architectural drawings and blank blue monitor screens. They are part of a map. The prints are a tracing not just literallyof the rubber band, but an imprint of an event, like islands in the sea…The cyanotypes… are a tracing of the rubber bands that we found and a mapping of the walk.”

See a video of Nicol demonstrating the cyanotype process:
http://www.liznicol.co.uk/More-Cyanotypes

Source Jesse Alexander 2013 pp 67-68

Categories
2: Landscape as Journey 5: Resolution Inspiration

Nadav Kander

Kander’s website (flash based)

Nadav Kander (born December 1, 1961) is a London-based photographer, artist and director, known for his portraiture and landscapes.

Kander was born in Tel Aviv, Israel. His father flew Boeing 707s for El-Al but lost his eye and was unable to continue flying. His parents decided to start again in South Africa and moved to Johannesburg in 1963. Kander began taking pictures when he was 13 on a Pentax camera. He states the pictures that he took then and until he was 17, although unaccomplished, have the same sense of quiet and unease that is part of his work today. After being drafted into the South African Air Force, Kander worked in a darkroom printing aerial photographs. It was there he became certain he wanted to be a Photographer. He moved to London in 1986, where he still resides with his wife Nicole and their three children.

 Yangtze – The Long River (2010)

Kander is best known for his Yangtze – The Long River series, for which he earned the Prix Pictet Prize. See images

Kander uses the course of the Yangtze as a strategy to travel through the hugely diverse topography and geography of China. Kander made several voyages along the course of China’s Yangtze River, travelling upstream from mouth to source over a period of three years.

The actual river features prominently. Using the river as a metaphor the journey begins at the coastal estuary, where thousands of ships leave and enter each day, and moves past renowned suicide bridges, coal mines and the largest dam in the world – the Three Gorges Dam. Further inland we encounter Chongqing – the fastest-growing urban centre on the planet. Kander never photographed further than twenty miles from the river itself. In the shadow of epic construction projects we see workers, fishermen, swimmers and a man washing his motorbike in the river. Dense architecture gives way to mountains in the upper reaches towards the river’s Tibetan source – a sparsely populated area where the stream is mostly broken ice and just ankle deep. The photographs are dominated by immense architectural structures where humans are shown as small in their environment. Figures are dwarfed by landscapes of half completed bridges and colossal Western-style apartment blocks that are rapidly replacing traditional Chinese low-rise buildings and houseboats.

In Kander’s images, we are also confronted with a terrifying reality: this time it is not the feral landscape that startles us, but the bleak facts about man’s unstoppability. Kander manages to communicate a sense of its epic scale, and also the environmental impact the habitations along its banks are having upon the climate more generally. His murky, smog-filled scenes are unashamedly value-laden – to show how Kander feels China is losing its roots.

His working method: he does not plan everything in advance. But uses the photographic process as a means of discovering more and more what resonates with him. He went back to China 5 times, taking fewer but more focused pictures each time.

Other works

In 2010- 2012 Kander photographed a series of nudes – Bodies. 6 Women. 1 Man – in his London studio. Coated in white marble dust and set against the void of the photographer’s studio the subjects serve as a study of the human condition.

Rooted in an interest in the ‘aesthetics of destruction’ Kander’s most recent project Dust explores the vestiges of the Cold War through the radioactive ruins of secret cities on the border between Kazakhstan and Russia. Will Self has said These images do not make beautiful what is not, they ask of us that we repurpose ourselves to accept a new order of both the beautiful and the real.

On 18 January 2009 Kander had 52 full colour portraits published in one issue of The New York Times Magazine. These portraits were of the people surrounding US President Barack Obama, from Joe Biden (Vice President) toEugene Kang (Special Assistant to The President). This is the largest portfolio of work by the same photographer The New York Times Magazine has showcased in one single issue.[3]

In July 2012 Kander exhibited at the National Portrait Gallery in London with a series of portraits celebrating London’s hosting of the 2012 Summer Olympics. In 2014 Nadav was among the 18 photographers chosen to be a part of Constructing Worlds: Photography and Architecture in the Modern Age, an exhibition at the Barbican Centre in London, and toured, which explored the ability of architectural photography to reveal wider truths about our society.

Kander is a Trustee of the The Lowry. He is represented by Flowers Gallery – London, M97 Gallery – Shanghai, Blindspot Gallery – Hong Kong and Camera Work Photographie – Berlin.

Publications

Categories
2: Landscape as Journey

Chris Coekin

Chris Coekin website

Chris Coekin’s monograph The Hitcher (2007) documents several years of hitchhiking throughout the UK. Coekin was drawn to hitchhiking as a unique form of transport, which relies upon the generosity of strangers and demands relinquishing some control over route or even destination. The Hitcher comprises self-portraits and incidental details that illuminate his journey (rubbish, mushrooms, prophylactics…), taken on a compact consumer camera, the quality of which reflects the impromptu nature of the project.

The Hitcher series 1

The Hitcher series 2 focuses on portraits of the drivers

The Hitcher series 3 focuses on objects along the way – dead rabbits, cigarette packets

These anecdotal images perhaps illustrate the sense of pace of the road, which is subverted by drawing upon details of litter and other detritus that are impossible to take in when travelling in a car at speed. Coekin also used hitchhiking as a means to collect portraits. After drivers dropped him off, he would ask to take their portrait. For Coekin, what was so distinctive about this approach was the fact that the process removed responsibility from the photographer to select whom he wanted to photograph.

In the book’s introductory essay, Camilla Brown contrasts Coekin’s method to traditional approaches in documentary, which, in spite of photographers’ best efforts to the contrary, invariably remain voyeuristic: “They [the drivers] effectively selected themselves to become part of the work, through their split-second decision to give him a ride. This is interesting when one compares it to other journeys recorded by photographers who are part of the social documentary tradition, in which it is the photographer who decides whom and what to photograph. The subjects are usually unaware that they have become part of a body of work. Even those that are called ‘concerned photographers’, who live in amongst the people they photograph, remain in a voyeuristic perspective – outside of, and separate to, the subjects of the work. Coekin’s project is by its very nature much more participative, and there is a different level of exchange between the photographer and those who are photographed. They all have the choice to take part, and invariably they are happy to oblige.”

Source Alexander 2013.

Categories
2: Landscape as Journey

Paul Graham

Paul Graham website

Paul Graham archive Great North Road

Great North Road Vimeo

Paul Graham (UK, 1956) belongs to that generation of photographers who were amongst the last to engage with the medium before it became part of the broader contemporary art world.

At the beginning of the 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‘– The Great North Road (1983) , 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. A1  is held up as a turning point within British documentary photography – when it became legitimate to use colour instead of black-and-white. The road itself features rarely in the 41 plates that make up the monograph; much of Graham’s attention is drawn to the various cafés and service stations along the route. The series is almost completely devoid of any recognisable landmarks (i.e. places of social or historical significance), and might easily be taken for any major British road. Rather than the A1 as simply an object of study, Graham uses it to transect the north / south divide: the road becomes a means of investigation.

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. Many UK photographers 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.  in

End of an Age‘ (1996-98)More recently his work has reflected an examination of what we expect from a photographic image, be it a portrait – as in these hard:soft images of young people

American Night‘ (1998-2003) reflects the landscape and social fracture of America through overexposed, near invisible white images. Examining what actually registers in our sight with

Graham moved to the United States in 2002, where he completed ‘a shimmer of possibility‘ (2004-2006) which embraces everyday moments of life in todays United States, whilst embracing time’s flow as a part of still photographic work through extended sequences of images.

Most recently, ‘The Present‘, completed this trilogy of works in the USA, with doubled moments taken unstaged from the streets of New York. These diptych works are separated only by a fraction of a second, yet highly specific focus shifts awareness between the images.

This unofficial trilogy of USA works – ‘American Night‘, ‘a shimmer of possibility‘ and ‘The Present‘, each embrace one of the 3 principle controls of the camera: Aperture, Shutter and Focus. As the aperture controls the light, the shutter controls time, and focus specifies what we look at, the trilogy of American works could also be described as engaging with Light, Time and Consciousness.