Comments/Context: Paul Graham's new street photographs are undeniably the most thoughtful body of new photography I have seen this year. I use the word thoughtful with special care in this case, in that there is a sense of deep, persistent, historically-aware thought that lies as a backdrop to these images. Graham has taken the traditions of the genre of street photography and systematically and meticulously destroyed them. This disassembly exercise is not a rebellious, thumbing his noise at history stunt, but instead a cerebral investigation of and meditation on the true nature of street photography. These pictures break every rule about what masters like Winogrand, Callahan, Meyerowitz, Friedlander and others have trained us to expect, and thus require a kind of mental rebooting to get into them. But once inside, there is a strong sense of Graham innovating within the confines of photography, rather than trying to show that he can go somewhere else. He is firmly rooted in the nature of straight photographic seeing, but he continues to ask questions about its limits.
Using pairs and triplets of images taken in the span of a few seconds, Graham shifts our attention away from traditional storytelling, making us see how his eye has wandered. His focus moves from one figure to the next, or to one in the foreground or background, quickly shifting and darting from moment to moment. A woman eating a banana traverses a crosswalk; a fraction of a second later, a blind man with a cane is right behind her. In the span of three frames, his focus moves from an apparently homeless man, a man with a plastic shopping bag, and a woman with a poodle, a bunch of tourists getting a sidewalk pitch from a tour salesman lingering in the blurry periphery. There is no clever connecting theme, no visual thread to unravel. Graham is exploring both the nature of eye movement and the compressing and expanding of time. Let me be clear, this is not cinematic. It is a jumpy, erratic progression, elusive and imperfect.
For those who would claim that everything has been done in a genre like street photography, Graham's work is proof positive that there is always room for frame-breaking, original innovation. His images are both an homage and a deconstruction, an appreciation and a rejection. In some ways, they aren't about the images at all, but about capturing the in-the-moment present tense of the street that swirls and changes continually around us without ever being actively noticed. The only reason I can't find my way to three well-deserved stars for this show is that I find the pictures so disposable and boring. Of course, I know, this is exactly and entirely the point, but my mind is hard wired to seeing in the old way, and I need some more time to get my head around experiencing the world as gaps and absences. But without a doubt, the ideas here are revolutionary, and they merit a robust, public airing, if only to show that we can still coherently parse this ever-changing medium. This is the kind of show we should be talking about, folks, not the packaged-for-easy-consumption art with which we are all too familiar.
Collector's POV: The works in this show are priced as follows. The smaller "stacked" diptychs (28x38 panels) are $35000 each. The larger diptychs (56x74 panels) are $65000 each. The triptychs are $80000 each. Graham's images (from all periods of his career) have been remarkably absent from the secondary markets for photography, so gallery retail is still likely the best option for interested collectors at this point.
- Artist site (here)
- The Unreasonable Apple essay (here)
- Artforum 500 words (here),
- Reviews/Features: Financial Times (here), LPV (here)
Through April 21st
The Pace Gallery
545 West 22nd Street