New York Photo Review
Volume 3 Issue 14 April 17 to 24, 2012

Paul Graham’s Present to New York
Paul Graham
The Present
Don Burmeister
Vesey Street, 25th May 2010, 5:51:05 pm by Paul Graham. Source:
Paul Graham, "Vesey Street, 25th May 2010, 5:51:05 pm"

British born photographer Paul Graham has created a number of book-length series that take a somewhat harsh look at the people and landscape of both England (A1-The Great North Road) and America (A Shimmer of Possibility). He has produced more than his fair share of pictures of isolated figures trudging across the Sahara-like expanses of parking lots. These bland images have proven to be catnip for writers and academics addicted to puncta and studia, not to mention denotation and connotation. So it is with some relief I can report that Paul Graham’s most recent show, “The Present”, is witty, winning and, indeed, celebratory.

What’s changed? It is not Graham’s approach. This show consists of large-format, color photos of fairly non-descript scenes. The difference is purely in location. Graham, who lives in New York, has taken on his adopted city and its varied street life, managing to captured the serendipitous joys of our mundane but insanely diverse people. The gimmick of the show, if you will pardon my acadamese, is that he makes diptychs and triptychs from photographs of the same site taken within a minute or so of each other.

Graham has captured some of those serendipitous resonances that can sometimes make the streets of New York seem like a scene from some surreal meta-drama.

In the diptych “Vesey Street, 25th May 2010, 5:51:05 PM”, we see a man with an eye patch walking in the sun on the left; on the right shifted slightly but obviously in the same location, one man is talking to another with one eye either winking or squinting in the sun. (I will leave it to the more academic writers to deconstruct the obvious taunt of giving one absurdly specific time to events that were separated by a number of seconds if not minutes.) Another diptych pairs a smartly tailored businessman crossing East 53rd Street with a rather down-at-the heels, shuffling older man occupying the same space a few seconds later.

53rd Street & 6th Avenue, 6th May 2011, 2:41:26 pm by Paul Graham. Source:
Paul Graham, "53rd Street & 6th Avenue, 6th May 2011, 2:41:26 pm"

Graham’s choices include more oblique matches as well. A woman eating a banana moves just a bit to reveal a blind man with a cane, or an older man with a cane gives way to two auxiliary policemen obviously on the prowl for evildoers.

Some pairings and triptychs cry out for narratives, as if they were scenes in a photo-novella. A man preens and absorbs the sun’s rays with eyes closed on Sixth Ave while an out of focus woman in the foreground puts on makeup. A few seconds later the man is still there with eyes still closed, but the woman is gone. There is even a real mini-drama in one piece. On a crowded Fulton Street sidewalk we see a crowd of fast walking pedestrians at one moment and in the next, one of them, has tripped and lies on the sidewalk, as some, but not all, of the others stop to help or look.

The streets of New York have been fertile ground for photographers for years, and they can nurture all sorts of sensibilities. Graham’s is surprisingly upbeat. None of the people in these scenes would ever make it into Bill Cunningham’s fashion spreads, but then neither are they depicted as grotesques. The images are good-natured and the people in them, for better or worse, look just like family.

Paul Graham
The Present

The Pace Gallery
545 W 22nd St.
Chelsea         Map

212 929 7000

Friday, February 24 to
Saturday, April 21, 2012
Hours: Tues-Sat 10 to 6