Paul Graham delivers us The Present as the final instalment in a trilogy hereto comprising American Night and A Shimmer of Possibility. In the earlier series, Paul Graham formally explored the social fracture of America by intentionally overexposing the images to create “blindingly white scenes and render near invisible the dispossessed people and landscapes”. In A shimmer of possibility he examined “the compression of time in photography” by depicting in-between moments, intermediate places, people in transition. In its vivid depictions of New York’s inhabitants, The Present now questions our very consciousness of the world.
In contrast to the tradition of street photography of the 60s and 70s, in which one shot contained all essential formal elements, Paul Graham investigates the nature of this genre and its own limits by taking two, sometimes three pictures, a few seconds apart, varying them in point of view and focus. When viewed together, they mimic our own visual experience, in which our concentration continually shifts from one object to the next. Little by little, the viewer becomes aware of the actual subject matter: it is the photographer’s eye, its wanderings and explorations of its surroundings, its change of focus from one figure to another, from foreground to background.
Paul Graham’s interest in “breaking down the decisive moment, not allowing life to become this single frozen shard, trying to reflect something of the flow of time” brings us to film and the obvious tension between these two media. But the artist refuses the “tyranny of narrative” and storyline imposed on film. In his view, photography is “much more an accurate reflection of the way life comes at us, unbidden and without perfect little narratives”. In his pictures, people pass by and move on. We are witnesses to the flow of time that continues in “jumpy, erratic and elusive progression”.
Alessandro Dandini de Sylva
carlier | gebauer