Does Yellow Run Forever? by Paul Graham
It is a rare breed of photographer who consistently and effectively negotiates both the exhibition and book form — producing coherent, well-sequenced exhibitions and publications — each with unique attributes and distinctive logic. Time and time again, Paul Graham has proven his skill in creating work that translates into dynamic exhibitions and mesmerizing publications. While I cannot speak to this newest body of work on the gallery wall, I can say that Does Yellow Run Forever? is another exquisite and compelling monograph by this acclaimed photographer.
In 2011, Graham revealed, “I have been taking photographs for 30 years now and it has steadily become less important to me that the photographs are about something in the most obvious way. I am interested in more elusive and nebulous subject matter.” Does Yellow Run Forever? is perhaps one of his most elusive and nebulous projects to date, a combination of seemingly disparate elements that question rather than explain. The body of work brings together photographs of rainbows in Western Ireland, pawnshop storefronts in New York City and portraits of his sleeping partner (Senami) made throughout New Zealand. They are quiet photographs, best understood when assessed as a whole rather than independently. The images speak to what we value and chase in life – whether that be beauty, wealth, love, hope or some ineffable dream. This more romantic subject may appear to be an unusual step for Graham; with projects such as A1: The Great North Road, Beyond Caring and American Night, he takes a more socially or politically oriented approach. Considered more broadly, however, his practice examines the human condition in its many forms while maintaining an overarching poetic sensibility — which holds true for this work as well.
In Does Yellow Run Forever? every detail has been deliberately considered and beautifully executed. The book is an exquisite little gem, measuring only 5 1/4 x 7 1/2″; the small scale dovetails with the personal nature of the subject contemplated. Flip open the embossed yellow velvet hardcover to unearth luminous golden end pages depicting clouds. The gilded edging of the pages is another subtle, brilliant detail. The photographs are impeccably reproduced, with incredible image quality where every saturated hue and texture is rendered in the sharpest of detail. Varnish over each image separates the picture from the negative space surrounding it, emphasizing the dimensionality of the photographs. Much like his unorthodox approach to installation, the placement of pictures shifts all over the book’s pages, undulating up and down and across the gutter. Graham also incorporates blank pages throughout his sequence, with both single and double page spreads left unprinted. Every image of Senami is flanked by empty double page spreads, a moment of respite to internally contemplate and question what we hold dearest in life; this dreamer could easily be any viewer.
There is an open-endedness to Does Yellow Run Forever? that may vex or frustrate some viewers; the work is far from obvious. Graham’s pictures urge us to ruminate and pause, which — in the midst of our contemporary culture’s fast-paced, relentless march forward — is time well spent.