Socialist Worker

Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006

by Jonathan Dodds
Issue No. 2249

Paul Graham

Paul Graham's 'Man Reading Paper, Bloomsbury DHSS, Central London'

This exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in east London presents over 25 years of work from British photographer Paul Graham.

The exhibition spans from his earliest works, such as A1—The Great North Road, where Graham exchanges the romanticised images of the great American road trip for the somewhat less romantic terrain of the A1 motorway.

It extends to his more recent photographic journey across the US.

Graham’s 1980s work is particularly interesting.

The series Beyond Caring (1984-85) documents the people and environments of dole offices across Britain at a time when the Conservative government was picking apart British industry and consigning millions to unemployment.

The photographs present us with the grim realities of this life.

In Man Reading Paper, Bloomsbury DHSS, Central London (1985) a dozen or so people sit in a waiting room, bored, tired, dejected. Next to the man reading a paper sits a woman, hand under her chin, elbow resting on her knee, staring blankly at the space in front of her.

Two aristocratic figures are painted onto the wall behind her, peering over their glasses, with sneering smirks on their faces.

The scene represents what is so powerful and enigmatic about much of Graham’s work.

These scenes of bored, unemployed working class victims of Thatcherism have not lost any of their power or the emotive anger of the photographer at the time.

After Beyond Caring came Graham’s exploration and account of politics in Northern Ireland—Troubled Land (1984-86).

This body of work represented a change in style as he turned his camera to the tiny details of everyday life—political posters, soldiers on residential streets.

These were the small signs that conflict was embedded within every moment of the lives of the people there.

Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006
Whitechapel Gallery, London E1, Until 19 June
Admission free

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Article information

Tue 26 Apr 2011, 17:53 BST
Issue No. 2249
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