Paul Graham (born 1956), an internationally renowned British photographer, has been at the forefront of contemporary photography since the 1980s. His work is celebrated for its unique blend of documentary observation and conceptual innovation. This exhibition brings together three of Graham’s most groundbreaking bodies of work, made across the United States between 1998 and 2011: American Night (1998–2002), a shimmer of possibility (2004–2006), and The Present (2009–2001). Linked by a common subject matter, the work gathered here examines the state of race and social class in America while using the very nature of sight and the medium of photography as metaphors for inequality, invisibility, and the ways photographs inflect our perceptions of the world.
Graham continually seeks out inventive ways to photograph the world as it is. American Night (1998–2002) contrasts barely visible, over-exposed images of lone working-class figures with saturated color pictures of immaculate suburban homes to present contrasting views of America’s class divide. In a shimmer of possibility (2004–2006), Graham embraces photography’s relationship to time and the stuttering nature of seeing by assembling sequential frames into subtle stories plucked from the flow of everyday life. The Present (2009–2011), a series of diptychs and triptychs, riffs on the tradition of street photography by emphasizing how slight shifts in focus and a moment’s passing can yield dramatically distinct narratives of public life. These three projects draw a connection to the three principal controls of the camera—aperture, which adjusts exposure; shutter, which controls time; and focus, which directs our attention—to emphasize a particular facet of vision and representation. Together, this informal trilogy interrogates the process and politics of looking while challenging photography’s conventional role in addressing social issues.
Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale is organized by Pier 24 Photography and features nearly forty works, ranging from individual large-scale photographs to sequences of over a dozen images.