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Thursday, 12 March 2009

Paul Graham's Best Shot

Paul Graham talks about his best shot in the Guardian (link here for all the best shots).

"This picture is actually part of a sequence of photographs I took on the first evening of a two-and-a-half-year trip around America, starting in Pittsburgh in 2004. I was just travelling with no particular purpose, taking photos along the way. This was in the car park in front of the motel where I was staying, and there was this guy cutting the grass of an entire huge field with a very loud old push-mower.

A "great shot" is the antithesis of what this work is about. It's about appreciating the flow of the moment, the rhythm and currents and eddies of life, rather than neatly packaging the world into perfectly formed little jewels.

He saw me and lifted his hand at one point, but he didn't really care. So I kept on taking pictures, with the sun shining directly into the camera. (It's lovely to do everything that Kodak tell you not to.)

In one image from this sequence, he is to the left, then he's to the right, then he's wiping his face with a cloth. Then this beautiful moment happened: the sun burst through and the rain came down, and all the raindrops were illuminated in the shaft of light. It was quite extraordinary.

I like this shot because, besides the obvious reason of its beauty, it confers a nobility on what the man is doing. He was working with dignity on this unbelievable task - and, with perseverance, he was probably going to get it done. Many moments are mundane and seem worthless, but they form and shape our lives. They are quite different from the Herculean labours and extraordinary moments that photographers are addicted to."

As he says in the interview, Paul Graham is not really a best shot kind of photographer. He works with an apparently incidental ("I was just travelling around with no particular purpose" my arse!) cack-handedness and makes it into something intelligent and new, and still references the history of photography in a hundred different ways. It's beautiful-ugly.

Graham's Best Shot comes from Graham's book, A Shimmer of Possibility, which is up for the Deutsche Börse Photography prize. It is surprisingly rare for photography to create something really original or influential, something that will stand the test of time. A Shimmer of Possibility is one of those somethings.

You can read my interview with Paul Graham here.

Also up for the prize are Emily Jacir, Tod Papageorge and Taryn Simon. You can read about the best shots of Tod Papageorge here and Taryn Simon here.

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