Paul Graham on Photography

For my current class at ICP (Photography as Practise: The Daily Blog), Lauren Silberman asked us to read two essays by Paul Graham.  Graham is a British photographer whose work explores “… the fertile territory where the descriptive and artistic aspects of photography coalesce, often tackling difficult subject matter for a medium that engages with the observable world.” (Gallery Press Release, 2008).

We read The Unreasonable Apple from February 2010 and Photography is Easy, Photography is Difficult, his Yale MFA Photography Graduation speech from February 2009.

Here are several quotes that are thought provoking, inspiring and challenging…interspersed with several of Graham’s images from different projects.

“…there remains a sizeable part of the art world that simply does not get photography.  They get artists who use photography to illustrate their ideas, installations, performances and concepts, who ‘deploy’ the medium as one of a range of artistic strategies to complete their work.  But photography for and of itself–photographs taken from the world as it is–are misunderstood as a collection of random observations and lucky moments, or muddled up with photojournalism, or tarred with a semi-derogatory ‘documentary’ tag.”  (The Unreasonable Apple)

“…how do you explain what Garry Winogrand did on a real New York street when he ‘just’ took the picture?  Or for that matter what Stephen Shore created with his deadpan image of a crossroads in El Paso?  Anyone with an ounce of sensitivity knows they did something there, and something utterly remarkable at that, but…what?  How do we articulate this uniquely photographic creative act, and express what it amounts to….?” (The Unreasonable Apple)

Television Portraits, Paul Graham

on the nature of photography of a certain kind:

“…the nature of the creative act when you dance with life itself–when you form the meaningless world into photographs, then form those photographs into a meaningful world.” (The Unreasonable Apple)

Paul Graham

From Empty Heaven, Paul Graham, 1989-1995

“…artists strive to pierce the opaque thershold of the now, to express something of the thus and so of life at the point they recognised it.  They struggle through photography to to define these moments and bring them forward in time to us, to the here and now, so that with the clarity of hindsight, we may glimpse something of what it was they perceived.  Perhaps here we have stumbled upon a partial, but nonetheless astonishing description of the creative act at the heart of serious photography: nothing less than the measuring and folding of the cloth of time itself.”

From Toubled Land by Paul Graham, 1984-86

In an interview with Graham in June of 2007, Richard Woodward asked him about the appeal of photography books.  As someone who LOVES and spends way too much money on photography books, I just had to share Graham’s response.

“John Gossage made a great comment that his books are the original work. It’s the summation of one’s endeavors—the book is the work. Now, a painter or a sculptor can have a catalogue of their work but… it’s completely different in photography. It is the exact thing—maybe a little smaller scale—but with a one-on-one dialogue when you read it. Looking at a Nan Goldin book is quite different from viewing her photographs on the wall with other people around you. The book is personal and direct, from the artist to you, complete and faithful.”


4 thoughts on “Paul Graham on Photography

  1. Re: Paul Graham on Photography. No one EVER just takes a picture. A long, deep, complicated list of factors happens instantly and simultaneously in the split seconds prior to the “moment”. The accumulation of all we are, all we are not, that which we love, what we hate, what we wish for, and what we wish we weren’t, all wrapped up in a neat little action called the shutter button push. Our heart and soul and brain and stomach, our memories and our wishes for later, all connected for a fraction of a moment in time, it’s duration — the width of an eyelash. Self portraits, every single one of them. EG.

  2. Thanks, Ed–beautifully said. “…the width of an eyelash…” to capture a memory, a dream, a meditation…that challenge is what keeps me shooting, challenged to see in a new way every time I look through the viewfinder….

    • Cathy — the greatest photography lesson I ever heard came from one of the most unusual of places. The book, “The Little Prince”, (St. Exupery ). One paragraph, loosely translated, ‘Whats most important is invisible to the eyes. Only with the heart can one truly see’.

      Shooting indoors with the view camera forced me to abandon my eyes and rely almost exclusively on the feel of the moment. You could hardly focus and barely see what was going on. Exposures were somewhere between 1/2 and 2 seconds most of the time. But magic happens when you least expect it might.

      Try something. This might be the first time I ever really verbalized this, but throw away all the rules you ever learned about photography. Whatever you are not supposed to do, do. Just play. Take the camera away from your eyes and really concentrate on what’s out there. Shoot without looking through the viewfinder. Crazy right ??? Sometimes we get so focused on the rules, we lose sight of whats important. ( I’m sorry, but I need more time to think about exactly what i’m trying to say)
      Plus, I’m falling asleep, so I’m going to say goodnight. Sorry, but to be continued………Eddie.

  3. Eddie, thanks so much for your comments and challenge to leave the rules, and PLAY and see in new ways. I will take that with me! I must see the images you created that you describe above! so agree that magic happens and when you least expect it…that is what I so love about photography, not to mention life!!!

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