After the grey and foggy England of Chris Killip, Great Britain gets a bit of colour with this record of a new wave of documentary photography that came out the UK in the 80s. The improbable compositions and resigned gestures of Paul Graham’s ‘Beyond Caring’ series (1984-1985) show us bleak social services waiting rooms, sites of the battles of the unemployed, where the social malaise of Thatcherism crystallised. It was forbidden to photograph these locations, so subterfuge becomes an integral part of the work, obliging the photojournalist to shoot from strange angles, capture people without showing their faces, sometimes indicating a presence through a physical synecdoche (crossed legs, a hunched back). This visual shorthand only emphasises the feelings of frustration and isolation.
A million miles from the restrictions of the Maggie era, the other series included in this exhibition (‘The Present’) catapults us into the streets of New York in the year 2011. Following in the footsteps of Harry Callahan and Lee Friedlander, Graham criss-crosses across the Big Apple, capturing its movement, colours and general frenzy, a huge contrast to the photos of Thatcher’s Britain. The photographer merges many of his portraits of New York life into diptychs and triptychs, playing on the juxtaposition and creating unexpected face-offs. The result is an electric social fresco, with political resonances simmering in the portraits of tarmac and street signs as well as the layered images.
Opening hours: Wednesday and Friday 12noon-8pm, Thursday 12noon-10pm, Saturday 11am-8pm and Sunday 11am-7pm