Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Paul Graham - photography is so easy it’s ridiculous

Paul Graham - Does Yellow Run Forever, 2014

Yes, photography is so easy it's ridiculous and that's what makes it so hard. In the end it's not so much about making the pictures it's what you do with them. It's about process, having an idea, making the pictures and then giving them life.

It seems to me that so many photographers have a very narrow view of process. Because the image making part is so captivating, so seductive, it's easy to make the pictures with no idea in mind and no end in sight.

Paul Graham is a camera artist who has a profound and insightful view of process. Graham makes deceptively simple images, loaded and layered, addressing strong ideas and outcomes. You could call him a conceptual documentary photographer. I think Martin Parr coined that descriptor. Although Graham knows where his work and projects are heading he also embraces the unexpected and let's intuition work for him too.
Underpinning it all, Graham takes a sharply intelligent view. He engages in critical study, thought, and reflection about the reality of society and this shows in his work. Further Graham is not afraid to say what he thinks and his pointed observations are well worth taking on board. Here are a few:

...my photography doesn’t always fit into neat, coherent projects, so maybe I need to roll freeform around this world, unfettered, able to photograph whatever and whenever: the sky, my feet, the coffee in my cup, the flowers I just noticed, my friends and lovers, and, because it’s all my life, surely it will make sense? Perhaps.

I have been taking photographs for 30 years now and it has steadily become less important to me that the photographs are about something in the most obvious way. I am interested in more elusive and nebulous subject matter. The photography I most respect pulls something out of the ether of nothingness… you can’t sum up the results in a single line.

There remains a sizeable part of the art world that simply does not get photography. They get artists who use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts, who deploy the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work. But photography for and of itself—photographs taken from the world as it is—are misunderstood as a collection of random observations and lucky moments, or muddled up with photojournalism, or tarred with a semi-derogatory documentary tag.

To photographers, street photography is a Himalayan range that the foolhardy pit themselves against. Or maybe it’s a shibboleth, a mystical visual code that only the indoctrinated members of our cult speak and revere.

Okay, so how do I make sense of that never ending flow, the fog that covers life here and now? How do I see through that, how do I cross that boundary? Do I walk down the street and make pictures of strangers, do I make a drama-tableaux with my friends, do I only photograph my beloved, my family, myself? Or maybe I should just photograph the land, the rocks and trees—they don't move or complain or push back. The old houses? The new houses? Do I go to a war zone on the other side of the world, or just to the corner store, or not leave my room at all? Yes and yes and yes.

...when you have a worthwhile idea, you should be prepared to gamble on it, test it out and see what the world gives back. 

You can go to the Paul Graham archive HERE

Paul Graham - New Orleans, 2005, from the series a shimmer of possibility


Unknown said...

How about not having any idea at all and just being present to life? Charles Harbutt used to say: "I don't take pictures, pictures take me." The urgency of the moment to be born as a photograph to live on should be enough of a trigger.

Sepp Seitz

Lamar said...

I so very much enjoyed and supremely identified with your way thinking. I decided to become a documentary photographer not because I consciously had the thought in mind, rather it chose me when I decided to document the horrible social disruption in my Harlem New York City community. I am African American, and over the last years I have worked hard to document black americans as everything storied about this community is being pushed out. As I began to try and show my images to the larger elite world of documentary photography, I was rejected at every turn. I started to doubt myself and my work. But then I met two reputable photographs who explained the dirty little secret of conformity. What I was presenting were images that were not of the stereotype or trope, that even as I write this remain a stubborn and concrete perspective of whites perceive black americans. So, when I read your piece, I felt so relieved to learn authors perspective that buttressed that I was not crazy. Thank you very much.