A1 – The Great North Road


Publisher: MACK

text by: Matteo Cremonesi

“And when he was crossing the river on the ferry, and then when he was walking up the hill, looking down at his own village and across to the west, where the cold crimson sunset was glowing in a narrow band, he realised that truth and beauty, which had guided human life in that garden and at the high priest’s, had continued to do so without a break until the present day, and had clearly always constituted the most important elements in human life, and on earth in general; and a feeling of youth, health, and strength – he was only twenty two years old – and an inexpressibly sweet expectation of happiness, of unfathomable, mysterious happiness, gradually overcame him, and life seemed entrancing and miraculous to him, and full of sublime meaning.”

Anton Chekov, The Student

Paul Graham’s work is configured as an extraordinary observation practice. Everything that is shown to us is right there, always in front of us, something that our lives and our gaze go through and touch continuously without noticing. What is shown in the works of Paul Graham, the subjects, are never extraordinary in themselves, but they become extraordinary under the gaze of the author who has chosen them.
Something simple and trivial becomes simply extraordinary.

Graham’s images ask us for a moment, they pause, they impose to our gaze an attention that “dissects” everyday life, finding here subjects whose visual and temporal stature becomes, thanks to the mastery of this author, monumental. Looking and inviting us to look at what we neglect, how much we discard, Paul Graham refers to a gaze capable of endangering the representation of reality that we had.

A1 – The Great North Road is a curious photographic book in which it’s possible to perceive a sensitive postural shift that sees the author slip from a consolidated tradition of the social documentary to the new linguistic elements imposed by the advent of color. A shift whose historical value for UK photography has conferred on one hand the success of this book (it was Paul Graham’s first book, self published in 1983) on the other hand its ability to pave the way for a new and emerging generation of british authors working with color, such as Richard Billingham, Tom Wood and Anna Fox.
Graham traveled along the “Great North Road” with a large format camera recording the landscape, the people, the buildings, the everyday life of the early 1980s. A watching and documenting that if on one side sees the linguistic and postural shift produced by theadvent of color in photography, on the other it documents the decline of the UK industrial base and the years of Margaret Thatcher’s government. Crossing England for its entire length up to Edinburgh, in A1 – The Great North Road, Graham questions what is found around him, guessing the elements necessary to construct a story that relates so much to the historical time and to the place where the author fulfills his gaze, managing in a easy and simply direct way to describe an atmosphere.
A story of the world characterized by a sense of reality and possibility that crosses things and images that reveal themselves parallel to the viewer and the author through the wonder of the discovery of the potential of color in the description of the world. Architecture of a new form of signs that forty years later do not fail to strike for its enormity and profound beauty.

Paul Graham (British, b.1956) is a British artist who works in Fine Art photography. His pieces typically show people and objects in realistic settings with surreal or unusual elements added to the image. Though Graham worked as a photographer during his 20s, he did not have his first show until he was 30. This show took place at the Watershed Gallery in Bristol, England, in 1986. That same year, he received the GLC Publications Award and the Arts Council Publications Award. Graham also received the Young Photographers Award, the Channel 4/Arts Council Video Bursary, the Charles Pratt Memorial Fellowship, and the Royal Photographic Society Award. In 2012, the Hasselblad Foundation awarded him the International Award in Photography, making him the only British winner of the award. Though Fine Art photography existed for a number of years, Graham was one of the first photographers to begin working in the field during the 1980s. His work entitled A1-The Great North Road focused on a stretch of the A1 road, using bright and saturated colors.

Copyright © Paul Graham, MACK and PHROOM, all rights reserved

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