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Paul Graham

New Orleans (Cherries), 2006. 

Courtesy Pace/MacGill, New York

How is the World? A Conversation between Paul Graham & Kevin Moore

in Paul Graham, Europe: America 


Paul Graham

Louisiana, 2005. 

Courtesy Pace/MacGill, New York

Europe : America brings together two key moments in Paul Graham’s artistic career through the juxtaposition of two of his series: New Europe (1986-1992) and A Shimmer of Possibility (2004-2006). The first of these was the result of a tour through Europe, the second through the United States. The catalogue includes essays by Jeff Rosenheim and Iwona Blazwick, as well as an interview between Paul Graham and Kevin Moore.


Kevin Moore: So, it’s summer 2011 and where are we?


Paul Graham: In New York City, sitting in my apartment.


KM: I am an American and you are a European


PG: ...and this is a conversation for an exhibition of photographs from Europe and America.


KM: Are you happy to talk about your work?


PG: I am happy to have this opportunity to put work from twenty-plus years ago with recent work, yes; that is interesting. Europe and America. Am I happy to talk, to make interviews? Well, I’d rather the work did the convincing than the words, but it is helpful for people, so within reason, why not? You have an obligation, at a certain point, to discuss these things.


KM: I have been to public conversations with respected older generation photographers and they’ve said almost nothing, or been willfully obstructive, deliberately unrevealing.


PG: I've seen that too, and it is frustrating. But to be tolerant, I partly understand that attitude, because the endless pressure to explain your work can be wearisome, plus for that generation in particular there were times when their work was marginalised, and their position as artists unrecognized, and they took a defensive posture out of necessity, so let’s cut some slack.


KM: But when they have arrived, as undoubtedly some of them have, is there the need anymore to be so mysterious?


PG: Probably not. But on the other hand, neither you nor I would wish the opposite—that the work only convinces after a wordy justification. That kind of work exists, and is often desiccated and shriveled when it is not bolstered by a convoluted explanation.


KM: So for you, then, where is the balance between idea and observation? For example, with New Europe, did you know what you were embarking upon, and what would be your route, at the beginning?


PG: No, I didn’t really know, and I never fully do. I mean, in photography, you might well start out with some kind of idea, be it intellectually rigorous or purely instinctive, then you go out into the world andlife slaps you in the chops, saying: ‘Oh you thought that was interesting, your little idea? Sorry, it’s not in the least, but keep trying, and if you pay attention I will show you something far, far better’. And this is when it gets wonderful and profoundly interesting: a pas-de-deux between the artist and the world.


KM: And if you stick to enforcing your idea, you end up with very didactic work, something lifeless, forced. But to be clear, you didn’t go out with no idea at all, aimlessly wandering about Europe with a camera, did you?


PG: No, of course not. It is simply a balance that everyone finds for themselves—writers struggle with various half formed ideas as they set upon a novel, musicians experiment with riffs and see what flies, or flunks. You are right: to wander out with a camera completely aimlessly is not productive, not in the final sense, no. So, yes, I had some ideas, and I went to specific places, like Berlin many times, or Valle de Los Caidos, where Franco’s grave is, or Belfast in the height of ‘The Troubles’, and saw what I could see, through my germinative ideas and through my eyes.

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