Saturday, 18 June 2011

Paul Graham, Whitechapel Gallery

Visited the Paul Graham exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery today – my second visit, which allowed me to think about why I liked the photographs I picked out the first time.
The set Troubled Land are, at first glance, not particularly interesting – fairly banal landscape shots – but then you notice the key details: the British flag, the soldier running across the roundabout, the Republican procession. You have to search out these details – they are not placed in the composition in such a way that your eye immediately fixes on them, and they are tiny details in the context of the overall frame. In the case of the procession, even when you do notice it (and it is positioned where two diagonals meet) you have to read the caption to know what it is. You can tell yourself that everything is normal – the significance is in knowing that it's not, and what those symbols mean.
The first time I saw A1 – The Great North Road they reminded me strongly of Martin Parr, but the second time I felt that they were a much more affectionate set of photographers than that would imply – particularly the portraits. He frames the subjects with great sensitivity, using the architecture - however mundane – in a way that gives them dignity. The colours are more subdued, not as harsh or gaudy, and the light is much softer than Martin Parr's. Another thing I like about this set of photographs is the way that Graham using line – the strong diagonals in photographs such as 'Lorry Driver', 'Interior, Blyth Services', 'Bible, Driver's Bedroom' and 'Interior, Rainton Services' give the images an energy which belies the subject matter.

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