Tag Archives: Whiteness of the Whale

Paul Graham: I turn a set of photos into its own world

Mack Books organises events in collaboration with Waterstones bookshop to promote some of their new photobooks. These are not simple “come and buy the book” events but have the format of conversations between a photographic critic, historian or curator with the photographer. This gives an insight into the photographer’s working practice and some back story to the book.

On 29 August 2015 Paul Graham (b. 1956) was in conversation with David Chandler to coincide with the publication of The Whiteness of the Whale. Paul is British but had been a frequent visitor to the United States before finally moving to New York. He felt it necessary to acclimatize to the US but needed to be an outsider looking in.

He describes his work as an unfolding thought process rather than a story or narrative. His process is to “edit the world into a set of photos then turn this set into its own world”. His work has to progress and change for his own interest to stay alive and grow. He keeps an eye on what’s being done, especially regarding photobooks, but does not copy or appropriate others’ work. His new book The Whiteness of the Whale evolved into a trilogy but was not planned this way – it emerged as the project progressed.

He does not see his books as documentary despite being labeled as such by some. Rather he sees photographic fact and fiction on a continuous scale with his books somewhere between the extremes.

He prefers working with multiple images and is positive about his perception that more people are seeing the book, the whole body of work, as the art form rather than the single picture on the wall. Nevertheless, he says that the book isn’t the artwork, it’s the container of the work but is sympathetic to the work.

The titles of Paul works often have literary connections (in the case of Whiteness of the Whale it’s Moby Dick) but come later in the project. They are not part of the picture-taking process but become part of the work at a late stage.