From the Archives

Common Objects and Common Moments

There are a lot of things happening every day that are inevitably missed by the majority of, if not all people. Objects go unnoticed, small actions occur without anyone ever knowing. And these insignificant parts of our world could remain invisible forever if it weren’t for the few individuals who actively seek them out. Paul Graham has the uncanny ability to find the quiet and beautiful moments that are necessarily ignored by everyone else. On view now at MoMA PS1, New Pictures of Common Objects examines the mundane pieces of daily life and reinterprets their possibilities.

The following article was originally published on March 29, 2012 by :

The Pace Gallery and Pace/MacGill Gallery debut Paul Graham: The Present with a striking selection of sixteen diptychs and two triptychs. This series concludes a trilogy with the series a shimmer of possibility (2004–2006) and American Night (1998–2002), both of which showed in numerous institutions and galleries internationally. Alongside the exhibition of The Present, Graham has published a 114-page monograph with London-based MACK, which will present the series in its entirety.

Paul Graham, 53rd Street & 6th Avenue, 6th May 2011, 2.41.26 pm (2011), pigment print mounted on Dibond, 56" x 74 1/4" (diptych), © Paul Graham 2012

Filling the spacious Chelsea Pace Gallery, Paul Graham: The Present displays vignettes that reflect quotidian ritual in New York City. Graham’s large-scale photographs hang at street level and mimic his theme of pedestrian rhythm. Smaller photographs, likewise in an array of diptychs and triptychs, are hung at eye level and also play a role in highlighting the voyeuristic perspective of the viewer, who is both the artist and the gallery audience. Rather than capturing a sea-like crowd of public, each photograph presents a focal character or characters that stands out from the monotony of the masses. Graham contextualizes each vignette by the specific location in which he becomes the ultimate voyeur.  By virtue of his photographs – as they are hung in solitary groupings rather than a vast assembly – Graham elucidates the manner in which a narrative is subject to alteration by the subtlest instances of movement, whether it is light or physical movement of a subject. An anonymous passerby becomes the subject of the frame only then to be replaced by his doppelganger in what seems to be the blink of an eye, for instance in works such as 8th Avenue & 42nd Street, 17th August 2010, 11.23.03 am (2010).

Paul Graham, 8th Ave & 42nd Street, 17th August 2010, 11.23.03 am (2010), pigment print mounted on Dibond, 28" x 37 1/2" (diptych), © Paul Graham 2012

As Shakespeare astutely put it: “all the world’s a stage […]” and Graham’s photographs testify to this very notion. Both the manner of characterizing the unknown and the capturing of natural light lend to an exquisitely theatrical cadre. As similar to the old masters of photography like Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen, Graham emphasizes the lyrical nature of light just as much as he accentuates his subjects, as seen in works such as Fulton Street, 11th November 2009, 11.29.10 am (2009) and E53rd Street, 12th April 2010, 9.45.55 am (2010). Due to light, the theatrical aspect of Graham’s photographs serves as a mechanism for spotlighting not only his characters within the frame but also the interplay of details that structure the composition.

Paul Graham, Fulton Street, 11th November 2009, 11.29.10 am (2009), pigment print mounted on Dibond, 56" x 74 1/4" (diptych), © Paul Graham 2012

In what seems to be a subtextual homage to Henri Cartier-Bresson’s “decisive moment”, in works such as Fulton Street, 11th November 2009, 11.29.10 am Graham elucidates the intuitive moment of capturing an instant when life lends itself to a compelling composition. In this particular diptych, we watch a girl go from strolling to sprawled out onto the street. The audience is privy to the cause of this girl’s accident, though it is clear that in that brief moment she was not. In many of his other prints, Graham renders a two or three framed story in which the audience is granted the time to comprehend the various details – many of which are speckled with both the mundane and frivolity – that occur in one second in a city. Paul Graham: The Present will show through April 21st at Pace Gallery 545 West 22nd Street, New York and is accompanied by a hardcover monograph published by MACK. Graham won the 2012 Hasselblad award in early March.

The Present, Installation view, courtesy of Pace/MacGill Gallery