Paul Graham


The exhibition is spread out in galleries 1,8 and 9 and arranged in titled sequences. The value of Graham's work is not only in the dignifying of seemingly mundane places, like the Little Chef in Cambs, part of the sequence depicting the A1 - The great north road 1981-1982', but in documenting those decades in which Thatcher was in power and the bleakness of it all. These are powerful political and social statements because they are real; there is no 'theory' that has been worked from. And yet it defamiliarisrs and identifies at the same time. This is shown to great effect in Interior, Rainton Services, Yorkshire, Nov 1981. The place is sparse; utilitarian, as three working men sit at separate tables away from each other; tucking into a fry up, nursing a mug of tea.

One photo of a chipped wall, upon which is painted 'PETROL' in red Communist Russian type print. The various personalities of the photographed subjects shine through, such as Tony, Tower Cafe, Bedfordshire, May 1982. He's wearing a big smile, to match his big glasses, big forehead, big collars; yet he is a small man, wearing a 'Write on Wipe Off apron'. The wall behind him shows pencilled writing far above his head - he'd be unable to wipe that off. There is much irony here; Burning Fields, North Yorkshire Sept 1981 has a parched field in the foreground, patches of burning in the background as a HOTEL sign shouts in the middle of it all - yet no sign of any building. In contrast to the industrialist and post-industrialist landscapes there are epic panoramas of the green lush country, such as that of County Tyrone 1986, yet the first part of the picture's title can be seen in the tree of this seemingly rural idyll; a main, weak looking tree, with a Union Jack flag perched in the top. These are the Troubles. There are also Unionist posters on the fat trunk of a tree in Tyrone, 1985. A solitary armed British soldier walks on the circle island of a crumbling roundabout in Anderstown, Belfast 1984, two colleagues can be seen on either side of the residential street ahead. A steel railing at the bottom of the picture is scribbled with IRA and PIRA. These photos are part of a sequence entitled 'Troubled Land 1984-1986'.

Beyond Caring 1984-1985', also in gallery 1, is powerful; Waiting Room, Poplar DHSS 1985, Bloomsbury DHSS and the waiting room of Southwark DHSS all convey the bleakness for many during this decade. The mural on the waiting room wall of Bloomsbury DHSS is telling; it seems to be a line drawing of a scene from a Dickens novel - inviting parallels with that time and the 1980's. Well, it could hardly be a scene from a work from The Bloomsbury Set. Although a mural depicting Septimus Smith shaking in Regents Park would still have made some sense. The reading matter of the man reading his newspaper in front of this mural reads The Sun, a page 3 model posing on the page.
I wasn't much taken with the sequences portraying Japanese pop-culture, or the row of 'untitled' portraits. But this is a must see.




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