- Paul Graham born 1956
- Photograph, colour, Cibachrome print, on paper mounted onto acrylic glass
- Image: 1520 x 2035 mm
- Purchased with funds provided by the Photography Acquisitions Committee 2012
Untitled #38, Woman on Sidewalk, New York, 2002 is a colour photograph that shows a poor black woman sitting on a dirty New York pavement in harsh sunlight. She has her back turned to the camera but she looks over her shoulder to make eye contact with the viewer. The pavement appears to be otherwise devoid of people and she seems isolated in this urban setting.
Together with Untitled #20, Man Walking in Grass, Memphis, 2000 2000 (Tate P80077) and Untitled #46, Man in Wheelchair, Detroit, 2001 2001 (Tate P13198), this image is from a series of photographs collectively titled American Night, which Graham worked on between 1998 and 2002. The entire series comprises sixty-three photographs, which are divided into three distinct groups. The largest group consists of forty-six bleached-out images of solitary African-Americans in deserted urban landscapes, or the peripheries of such a setting. The lone figures appear to be just wandering or waiting but the viewer’s ability to see them properly is compromised by a blinding whiteness that obscures the image like a veil of muslin. The details of the image are difficult to decipher because the photographs are dramatically overexposed. Untitled #20, Man Walking in Grass, Memphis, 2000 and Untitled #46, Man in Wheelchair, Detroit, 2001 fall into this group. Ten photographs, of which Untitled #38, Woman on Sidewalk, New York, 2002 is one, form another group of street photographs of African-Americans, all of whom appear poor or damaged in some way. These photographs are in full colour, in contrast to the pale minimalism of the larger group. Seven more images, also in vivid colour, depict middle-class suburban homes, so perfectly kept that they lack any obvious sign of habitation.
The American Night series contrasts the perfection of high-suburbia with the poor and marginalised communities who exist on the fringes of all that is valued by the so-called ‘American dream’ and as such are rendered invisible by its narrative. The solitary presence of tiny figures in the bleached-out images emphasises their marginal status. They appear isolated, vulnerable and, indeed, barely visible. The full colour street photographs similarly depict forlorn figures. The impression is that of the white veil having been lifted or the fog having cleared, with the peripheral figures of the white photographs here viewed in detail and in heavily shadowed colour. The series is structured around this tension between seeing and not seeing, visibility and invisibility.
In an essay on this series of works, curator Val Williams has described Graham’s American Night in the following way:
In a work more political than any of his output since Beyond Caring and Troubled Land he has used a mature and supremely confident photographic methodology to construct a visual narrative which confounds, confuses and troubles the viewer. At this critical time in the history of post-war America, Paul Graham has made photographs which are to do with unseeing, incomprehension and a fracturing world.
(Val Williams, ‘American Night’, in Fundación Telefónica 2004, p.86.)
Paul Graham, exhibition catalogue, Fundación Telefónica, Madrid 2004.
Paul Graham and Michael Mack, Paul Graham, Göttingen 2009.
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