Graham Beyond Caring 1984-5 7

Paul Graham, from Beyond Caring, 1984-5

It was hardly the best of times. Thatcher’s Britain, the Britain of the 1980s, was a place where high unemployment met a government that, at best, didn’t care and the result was a sorry existence for the many for whom work was no more than a distant dream. But of course, this is Britain. We have the welfare state to care for us from cradle to grave, or so we thought.

Paul Graham’s Beyond Caring, a series of photographs made in dole office waiting areas in 1984-85 – coincidentally, the time of the miners’ strike – makes for depressing viewing. There is a hopelessness that permeates every aspect of every picture: the spaces are grimly dehumanising; the posture of those who occupy them speaks volumes. There is a sense of resignation, of stalled lives.

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Street scenes

Paul Graham, Wall Street 19th April 2010, 12.46.55 pm, 2010

Though my preference is almost always for what might best be termed fine art practices, when it comes to Paul Graham’s work it’s generally been his documentary work that has interested me most and, though his work looks great in galleries, books like Beyond Caring and Troubled Land have moved me more. It’s not that I don’t like Graham’s later work – certainly I found a lot to like in his 2011 Whitechapel Gallery exhibition – it’s just that the books he produced in the 1980s seem exceptional. With this in mind, I approached his exhibition at The Pace Gallery as someone who needed to be won over.

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