The Foundation’s citation reads like this:
Paul Graham is one of the most brilliant photographers of his generation. During the course of his nearly 40-year career, he has presented an extremely focused body of work, at once perfectly coherent and never monotonous. In images both sensitive and subtly political, he makes tangible the insignificant traces of ″the spirit of the times″ we do not normally see. With his keen awareness of the photographic medium, he has constantly developed innovative forms of working with all aspects of photography. This makes him a profound force for renewal of the deep photographic tradition of engagement with the world.
As it happens, I have good reason to recognise Paul Graham myself. It's been a few years since I last told this story, so here is a rewritten version of an afterthought to a post from 2008. I should probably title this post "I've danced with a man, who's danced with a girl, who's danced with the Prince of Wales", or something of the sort.
I used to live in Bristol in the late 70s / early 80s. I lived with my girlfriend in the top flat of a typically Bristolian converted Georgian house in the Redland area. It was around that time I first began to be seriously interested in photography, but had developed no taste or sense of history and was generally pretty ignorant. For years I had got by with a Kodak Instamatic and a Russian Fed 3 rangefinder bought for my 11th birthday, but had been persuaded of the advantages of SLRs by a friend, and when I first picked up an Olympus OM-1n in a local camera shop I was smitten. Truly, madly, deeply. I started down that road which, presumably, will not be unfamiliar to most readers of this blog.
Now, there was another flat underneath us, and I happened to know that one of the guys in there was some kind of artist, and having regular dealings with various arts organisations. I knew this, because we kept getting his mail. Sometimes letters with an Arts Council logo would arrive, and sometimes those dismal postcards of rejection ("Thanks for your interest..."). His name was Paul Graham.
Famously, Paul self-published his first book, A1: The Great North Road, an unusual step in those days, and copies were prominently on display in our local bookshop. I couldn't help but notice it: apart from the author's familiar name, I happen to have been born right next to The Great North Road. Looking through it, I thought the images were static, drab, badly composed, and generally pretty poor stuff (had this guy never read Amateur Photographer, for God's sake?). But I bought one anyway, mainly because of the novelty of having a book where the publisher's address was also mine.
Despite my curiosity, I didn't introduce myself, or get my copy inscribed. Paul Graham was visibly cooler than me, a man approaching 30 with a nine-to-five job whose coolness quotient, once quite high, was in steep decline. Besides, I thought he wouldn't react well to the pointers on photo-technique I'd be obliged to pass on. Just as well, really: I simply wasn't ready to recognise and engage with one of our most innovative photographic artists, someone genuinely miles ahead of the game.
Now, of course -- now that I have developed a little taste and a sense of history -- it's one of my most treasured photobooks (and have you seen the price people are asking for copies?? If only I'd got it inscribed... "To my idiotic upstairs neighbour. Now please go away"). I did learn a lesson from this, though, one that I try to pass on whenever I get the chance.
These days, I'm alert and waiting for what I think of as that Hendrix Moment. You know: when you hear or see something so astonishingly new that you can't yet see it or hear it for what it is and, in self-defense, shout out "Rubbish!" along with all the other idiots who think they know a thing or two.
So, don't be an idiot. Do yourself a favour. If someone is attracting attention for work you can't fathom, or which you whole-heartedly detest, please reserve judgement. You know nothing. They, apparently, know something. Why not try to figure out what it is?
Not Seeing the Viaduct for the Trees...