Republican Coloured Kerbstones, Crumlin Road, Belfast is a colour photograph on paper. The image was shot by the artist in Northern Ireland in the mid-1980s as part of a group of work collectively entitled Troubled Land. It was subsequently reprinted by the artist in the mid-1990s in an edition of ten, plus two artist’s proofs, on Fuji paper and previous versions were destroyed, as he explained in a letter of July 2007 to his London gallerist Anthony Reynolds:
I first printed these c.1987–88 on Kodak Ektacolor paper, which was considered the best available, but little was known about the stability and permanence of such colour materials at this point, as most photographers made b/w [black and white] images then ... However, it was discovered that Fuji had far better stability, and almost negligible ‘base-yellowing’ in comparison ... I reprinted these on Fuji paper in about 1993–4. (I destroyed the yellowed Kodak prints.) ... nothing has changed about these prints from c.1993, except the material. They are exactly the same size, same borders, same printer (me).
(Letter from the artist to Anthony Reynolds July 2007, Tate Gallery Records.)
Tate’s copy is the ninth in the edition and is inscribed with the artist’s name, the title and the edition number of the print.
Republican Coloured Kerbstones, Crumlin Road, Belfast depicts a piece of paved wasteland in front of housing and hills in the distance. There are signs that local children have created earth bicycle jumps in the area shown in the foreground. In the centre of the scene is a raised island of kerbstones, three of which have been painted green, white and gold. Graham first visited Northern Ireland in 1984, during the IRA’s declared ceasefire, when he began working on the group of landscape photographs which he would later publish as a book, Troubled Land (Grey Editions, London 1987). In this series, he developed a response to the historical and political events of the ‘Troubles’ in Northern Ireland through an examination of the geographical landscape.
Influenced by the work of American photographer William Eggleston (born 1937) in his choice of apparently insignificant, disregarded sites, Graham’s subject became ‘the way in which the geography of “the Troubles” is held as a continuous narrative within the landscape itself, in which everything is charged with significant meaning’ (Wilson, p.64). By using colour, as Eggleston had done, and by standing back rather than getting up close, Graham set himself apart from the accepted language of photojournalism and reportage, an approach which led him to be criticised as ‘somewhat radical, like working in colour when all serious photographers made black and white, like mixing up genres by making war photographs that looked like landscape photographs’ (Graham quoted in Wilson, p.141). For Graham, such criticism ignored the fact that ‘the subject of “the Troubles” is so etched into the landscape that it is impossible to see one without seeing the other’ (Wilson, p.64).
Crumlin Road in Belfast was the site of a former prison used during the ‘Troubles’ to house those awaiting trial for terrorist and paramilitary activities. At first sight, Republican Coloured Kerbstones, Crumlin Road, Belfast appears to show an area of wasteland, disregarded by all other than local children wanting to use it as a bike track. In stark contrast to the improvised innocence of this scene, however, are the kerbstones clearly painted in the colours of the Republican flag. The scene thus takes on a political and historical meaning of weighty significance. This marking-out of territory, creating an underlying sense of threat, recurs throughout the images in Troubled Land.
Other works from Troubled Land in Tate’s collection are Paint on Road, Gobnascale Estate, Derry 1984 (P79338), Graffiti on Motorway Sign, Belfast 1985 (P79339), H-Block Prison Protest, Newry 1985 (P79340), Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast 1984 (P79342) and Union Jack Flag in Tree, County Tyrone 1985 (P79343).
Paul Graham, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Teléfonica, Madrid 2004, pp.9–35.
Andrew Wilson, Gillian Wearing, Carol Squiers, Paul Graham, London 1996, reproduced p.17.