P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center presents Paul Graham’s large-scale American Night photographs. In these works, Graham explores an unspoken but omnipresent social divide that exists in contemporary America.
The exhibition opens with the intense, claustrophobic images: Blinded Man (1998) and Blinded Woman (1999) depict figures taken from the streets of New York with their sight smothered by white gauze. Convention is then turned on its head as we confront dazzlingly bright, high-key images which reflect on the lives of the dispossessed in America. Rejecting the photographic tradition of using darkness and shadow to reflect poverty or deprivation, these images invert our perceptions of how one expresses the gap between included and excluded, black and white, rich and poor.
“The searing light in the majority of the American Night images recalls the sensation of emerging from a darkened room into bright sunlight. The harsh glare of the real world turns seeing into a difficult or even painful experience. We fail to notice those figures inhabiting the no-man’s-land of suburbia: walking, waiting, sitting or staggering across the terrain of Middle America, their presence so ubiquitous that they have achieved near-invisibility,” says the show’s curator and P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss.
Documenting people’s everyday lives, Graham approaches social realities with brutal honesty. His works are resolutely contemporary and can be read both artistically and politically, qualities obvious in earlier works like Troubled Land (1987), his photographs from Northern Ireland, or New Europe (1993), a series of images reflecting on history and memory across Western Europe. Affirming “the best of time is always now,” his last major work, End of an Age (1999), was a series of astonishing portraits that capture the almost tragic self-forgetfulness of young people at the close of the millennium. Paul Graham’s works break traditional boundaries between reportage, portrait, and landscape photography to successfully negotiate the relationship between art and document.
Paul Graham: American Night is curated by P.S.1 Director Alanna Heiss and P.S.1 Curator Jimena Blázquez. A hardbound book is published by steidlMACK to accompany the exhibition.