«Let us try. But in a matter like this, subtlety appeals to subtlety, and without imagination no man can follow another into these halls.» H. Melville, Moby Dick
Published contextually to Paul Graham’s current major retrospective at Pier 24 – the first solo show held at the beautiful exhibition space in San Francisco, open since 2010 –, The Whiteness of the Whale brings together some of the most remarkable series by the British photographer, who has been living and working in the United States since the Nineties.
Country of adoption, America has also constituted one of the artist’s privileged subjects and represents the core of the present luxurious monograph, which includes the series American Night, a shimmer of possibility and The Present, all made between 1998 and 2011 and previously published individually as part of the artist’s longstanding collaboration with British publisher Michael Mack.
Graham’s approach has always moved around the fine line between art and documentary photography, and American Nights (2003), a project which examines the social fracture of America, is no exception. In this work, bright and colorful images of America’s dream homes leave room to a series of almost-white suburban landscapes, only inhabited by faraway passers-by. Dark street portraits suddenly disrupt the dreamlike journey, bringing the viewer back to the claustrophobic intensity of contemporary America.
The book includes a selection of sequences from the award-winning a shimmer of possibility (2007), a twelve-chapters epic of small and incidental occurrences of American daily life. Here, the flow of life reveals itself in all of its beauty through a portrait of the most familiar, yet unexpected human gestures: people waiting for the bus, cutting the grass, smoking a sigarette.
In The Present (2011), Graham continues his exploration of time and life in contemporary America, moving this time to the streets of New York. By shooting small sequences of photographs from the same point of view, only separated by the briefest fractions of time, Graham lets the present manifest itself in front of his camera. His photographs are harmless fractures in the continuity of life.
Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale Published by MACK in collaboration with Pier 24, San Francisco 240 pp., € 65.00 www.mackbooks.co.uk Until February 29, 2016 Pier 24 The Embarcadero, San Francisco www.pier24.org