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Matinee: 'Paul Graham' Share This on LinkedIn   Share This on Google   Tweet This   Forward This

26 September 2015

Saturday matinees long ago let us escape from the ordinary world to the island of the Swiss Family Robinson or the mutinous decks of the Bounty. Why not, we thought, escape the usual fare here with Saturday matinees of our favorite photography films?

So we're pleased to present the 104th in our series of Saturday matinees today: Paul Graham.

This 15-minute video was released for The Whiteness of the Whale, a solo exhibition of Paul Graham's work at Pier 24 Photography.

The exhibit, whose name is taken from Chapter 42 of Moby Dick, includes three series composed of nearly 60 works Graham made in the U.S. between 1998 and 2011. Here's a brief description of each of them with links to their online portfolio:

  • American Night (1998-2002), a series of large, nearly white, overexposed images, in part, that require the viewer to study the image to reveal its subject.
  • A Shimmer of Possibility (2004-2006), "stuttering sequences of very innocuous everyday moments," according to the artist.
  • The Present (2009-2011), large prints in groups of Graham's street photography in New York City.

Taken together, the three form "an informal trilogy, linked not only by common subject matter, but also by underlying issues such as racial and social inequality, the texture of everyday life, and the nature of sight, perception, and photography itself," according to the Pier24 notes.

In the clip, Graham discusses each of them as we view the exhibit, starting with the title borrowed from Melville, which he says is a perfect metaphor for his having been in the belly of the beast, traveling across the country.

In discussing each series, Graham highlights a different aspect of exposure that he ultimately views as a metaphor. It's a neat trick.

Aperture, shutter and focus controls translate to reflections on light, time and consciousness.

American Night, for example, relies on the camera's aperture to flood the image with light. In A Shimmer of Possibility it's the shutter that stutters the sequences of light. And in The Present, the street scenes have very shallow focus that shifts from shot to shot. Aperture, shutter and focus controls translate to reflections on light, time and consciousness.

Graham uses three different styles of photography in American Night. In addition to the overexposed images, there are almost idealistic real estate images of suburban homes. They're joined by darker inner city images. Graham explains that they challenge you to overcome your own blindness to see what the images are showing you. It's an effort. And a choice.

In A Shimmer of Possibility, the sequences shift from one aspect of a scene to another in the same scene, as we do naturally in taking in any scene. Even in the most ordinary circumstances, Graham says, there is a glow of opportunity and wonder. He pairs some of these situations, matching a man having a smoke in Las Vegas with a street person in San Francisco selling flowers, for example.

The Present deals with life in one place, Graham's home city. Unstaged. No props. Life as it comes at you, he says. The images are hung barely above floor level, keeping them close to the street. They will inevitably age, he notes. The clothing, the hair styles, the signage. But still be called The Present.

Pier24's exhibits don't label images and provide little guidance, so this video represents something of a guided tour by the artist of his works, a rare treat. And just as rare is Graham's poetic approach to photography.

The Whiteness of the Whale is on view at Pier 24 by appointment only through Feb. 29, 2016.

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