Paul Graham – Television Portraits

Posted on October 25, 2012


Paul Graham is a highly influential British photographer whose work spans a wide range of work. His work has never settled into a niche. He has always seemed be able to move on. His books A1 – the Great North Road, Troubled Land, and New Europe  are likely to be significant influences on my East End London project. They are the kind of personal documentary that I want my work to be. Work which requires a thoughtful viewer to spend time with the photographs to unearth and consider the hidden questions posed by the photographs. Another series Television Portraits is immediately relevant to my portraiture work now.

I have previously posted here on this series. At the time of this post I had merely identified this work as a possible influence. Now I can see that this work fits into my work under the banner of ‘The Absorbed Subject’. Graham’s work is an open ended series of portraits of friends watching television. They are aware of Graham’s presence with his camera yet are fully absorbed in watching the TV. In an interview with Gillian Wearing (Graham, pp 30) he explains that ‘…No, I was with my flatmate watching television, and I just took this picture, Cathy, and realised how beautiful it was’.

The portraits in the series have the common element that the subject is absorbed with the television. The portraits do not conform to a rigid structure. Some are full length some half length. Most are a three quarter view. What they do all share is the inclusion of the environment, generally this is a comfortable space into which the subject seems to sink. The subjects appear relaxed and have adopted a range of different gestures and postures. I share Graham’s view that the photographs are beautiful, which has become a cohesive element within the series. In my view the beauty stems from the light, which is subdued but with the presence of the directional light from the TV, and the warmth of the colours. I think that the interest which the photographs engender is through the viewers identification with the  subjects and the situation and our inherent human curiosity about people and how they look. The photographs feel comfortable and inviting. The portraits can be viewed on Graham’s website here:

It is my hope that  my Urban Artists At Work will also be seen as beautiful by the viewers, which will add to the attraction of the portraits. I have tried to make images with strong colour combinations and the people portrayed could also be described as interesting and colourful. I have also looked for interesting gestures and poses along with interesting relationships between the artists and their work, as in the following example:

SpZero76 by Keith Greenough

Graham P. (1996) Paul Graham London: Phaidon