Paul Graham. Waiting Room, Poplar DHSS, East London. 1985

Paul Graham Waiting Room, Poplar DHSS, East London 1985

  • Not on view

Graham works within England's strong tradition of social documentary photography. He was one of the first photographers to make such pictures in color, bringing new life to a well–worn tradition. This picture, from his series Beyond Caring (1984–85), describes the boredom and despair of people seeking help in a social–service office in London. Graham himself was unemployed at the time and his visits to the offices to receive welfare benefits precipitated the project.

The photograph's canted horizon suggests the disorienting effect of the impersonal office and the humiliating circumstance. The arrangement of figures and furniture within the picture, seen from a low angle with a visual entry point near the center, draws the viewer into the grim scenario. The composition was at least partly determined by the discretion Graham exercised in making it, although the large size of his medium–format camera precluded the possibility of his pictures being completely candid. The bright colors seduce the viewer while they contradict the facts of the scene, creating the tension of lived experience.

Publication excerpt from The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights since 1980, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 2007, p. 62.
Chromogenic color print
26 3/4 × 34 5/8" (68 × 88.1 cm)
Acquired through the generosity of Shirley C. Burden
Object number
© 2021 Paul Graham

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