Paul Graham’s latest book Films is a homage to the medium of film.
What appear at first to be series of abstract fields of dots, blobs or color forms, are in fact extreme close ups of photographic images, magnified to a point where they reveal the grain and structure of the film itself.
Graham is acknowledged as one of the very first British documentary photographers to work in color. An accomplished C-type printer, Graham has always printed his own images, and early in his career, he made his living as a printer for others. Now working in the digital environment—Graham has shot exclusively digitally for five years—he remains very hands-on, working on scans, digital corrections, test prints, and finals. It was through this preparation for his retrospective that Graham noticed the different film structures and conceived the idea for the book, a poetic riff on his past life with film.
Films continues two central themes that permeate all of Graham’s work: the book as a integral component of his process, and an interest in the nature of photography itself.
Where previous bodies of work (End of an Age, American Night, and Shimmer of Possibility) relate to the basics of photography: focus, (blurred images) aperture (blown out and dark images) and shutter (sequenced imagery) respectively, Films concentrates on the scientific and physical aspects of the medium of film itself.
The 12-volume compendium format for Shimmer of Possibility was designed as a response to the individual stories which made up the whole. With Films, the design solution is manifest in the printing— the pages are coated with a hi-gloss UV varnish to emulate the plastic quality of film emulsion.
An alternative survey and companion piece to the more conventional retrospective book, Films is an abstract chronology of Graham’s archive. A Colophon at the end of the book identifies the origin and film stock for each spread. Prints from the book recently on show at Anthony Reynolds Gallery corresponded to the print sizes of the original editions from which the abstract close up film images are sourced.
Films is a creative and conceptual look back at Graham’s work to date. It also closes a chapter of Graham’s working process and with his relationship to the physical material of photography itself. His latest photographs — which will be published as the third installment in his continuing series of work on America — are being photographed digitally.
Films is published by Mack.
Paul Graham Photographs 1981-2006 is on exhibition at the Whitechapel Gallery in London until June 19, 2011.