assignment 3 – inspiration and research – Paul Graham

I have written about Paul Graham before, during the big post that lies at the heart of my experience of Context and Narrative; I had taken some photographs in his late style and thought that trying to apply this to catching stories on the escalators of the Moscow Metro would be an interesting thing to try. This – alongside the pictures of Walker Evans and Lukáš Kuzma – fed into my work for the “unaware” project in part two of this course, especially the pictures I took during a trip last summer to Kiev.

Wishing to find out more about Graham’s recent work, I had also bought the book collecting his three latest series (The Whiteness of the Whale) and  found an interview with him about the related exhibition of these pictures in 2016 at Pier 24 in San Francisco in 2016.

At an early point during my editing of pictures for assignment 3, I  once again thought of Graham’s work, in particular the dip- and triptychs of the latest of the three series collected in the The Whiteness of the WhaleThe Present (2011) with their fixed viewpoint and shallow depth of field. I began to try to apply this to the pictures I was making in Oxford Circus station, a process described in the posts describing my journey towards having a completed assignment.

What follows here are some quotes  from the Pier 24 video that I have found useful in establishing what it that I like – and can make use of – in these pictures.

On Shimmer of Possibility:

  • “multiple pictures, varying in size and position [on the wall or on the page]”
  • “stuttering sequences of very innocuous, everyday moments, shared with people I have met travelling around the United States”
  • “moving from the spotlight beam/awareness [of conventional photography] to a floodlight/lantern awareness […] a broader range of time is illuminated”
  • “life glows with opportunity and wonder”
  • “moments arriving, unfolding and departing”

In these “stuttering sequences” Graham believes he is able to expose something of “our own stories, our own little world” and to respect them and give value to the moments that “make up 99% of our lives, the quotidian, the humdrum…”

On  The Present:

  • “unbidden and unstaged” incidents
  • “the confluence of people and moments and attention as you navigate one of Americas major cities”
  • “life as it comes at you”
  • “the instant [the pictures] are taken, they age, they – clothing, hairstyles, street signs – they date”

(The last of these, also made me think of Geoff Dyer’s description of Gary Winogrand, standing like a rock in the middle a river as a torrent of people break and pass by on either side of him.)

Finally, here is a more general paraphrase, that could be applied to any of the three pieces collected in the book and diplayed at the San Francisco Exhibition:

Graham’s pictures are about the nature of seeing and of photography itself; they relate to the three basic camera controls: light (and exposure); time (in the ‘stuttering moments’ caught in the sequences that make up A Shimmer of Possiblility); focus (in the shallow in-focus slices through the street that reflect human awareness or consciousness as the scene changes before them).

They reflect upon  our experience of life and how we perceive it; they combine the way photography can isolate this experience, and preserve it in a form someone else can appreciate.

I think Graham’s pictures expose useful ways of getting to know (and to share our experience of)  the places that we visit and where we live.


  • Graham, P (2012) Hasselblad Award 2012. MACK books, London
  • Graham, P (2016) The Whiteness of the Whale. MACK books, London
  • Paul Graham Artist Video (2016) – Pier 24, San Francisco. Available on Vimeo ( – accessed 21/3/18)

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.