Paul Graham was at the Anthony Reynolds Gallery, October to November, 1994
Review by Catherine Duncan
Issue 4 Spring 1995
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Skies, big beautiful skies. Big beautiful prints. Paul Graham's show last November had an immediately attractive surface. What could be more impressive and humbling than infinity, the start of the rest of the universe, via the seduction of giant photographs?
I suppose the jag is in the tag, the titles featuring 'Falls', 'Shankill', 'Crossmaglen', 'Bogside', among others. These titles bear equal significance to the images themselves; for a great deal of the population of Ireland, Britain, and the western world, these titles spell conflict, and probably will continue to have this association for many years. What makes these skies different from others , worthy of conferred importance, is their collective and yet disputed memory, their media fame, their death statistics, so long used to one person's advantage or another.
Always meteorologically inaccurate, the loyalist graffiti artist's legend 'We will not forsake the blue skies of Ulster for the grey skies of the Irish Republic' is refuted poetically here. They show many shades of sky in the north of Ireland, but they are all of the same sky, and share it with the rest of the earth, no matter whom we mere mortals think we are separate from or united with. Graham took the photographs at a time of hope during a ceasefire in April '94, in a return to the province after his Troubled Land series of the late eighties. In these, and much of his work, his interests are the manifestations of historical and human conflict, an alternative to news photography, encouraging contemplation rather than variously motivated shock tactics. Where former images might have included jingoist graffiti, these skies lean closer to abstraction, a concept in a group of works rather than single images. Perhaps more palatable to an audience, as they could never be accused of misrepresentation, they still deal with themes and permutations, and provide a pointed rejoinder to Eggleston's China skies.
These photographs are hardly the equivalent of pushy soundbites of some outside observers; they are an idea. Graham's work has never been shown in Ireland, preserving his anonymous authorship, preventing any local rebuttal; but then he has never been invited to show here. And surely now is the time for alternative views, a reminder dually of endless possibilities and defined perimeters.
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