Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale


Pier 24 Photography is pleased to present The Whiteness of the Whale, a solo exhibition by British photographer Paul Graham (b. 1956) who lives and works in New York City. For the first time, this exhibition brings together three bodies of work made in the United States between 1998 and 2011, American Night (1998–2002), a shimmer of possibility (2004–06), and The Present (2009–11). The Whiteness of the Whale features nearly sixty works, ranging from singular large-scale photographs to sequences of over twenty images. This exhibition marks Pier 24 Photography’s first single-artist presentation and the only time a shimmer of possibility has been presented in its entirety. Graham’s three bodies of work from this period operate as an informal trilogy, linked not only by common subject matter, but also by underlying issues such as racial and social inequality, the texture of everyday life, and the nature of sight, perception, and photography itself.



Immersing himself in the landscape and people of the United States has prompted Graham to more closely examine how the acuities and fallibilities of vision play into our perceptions of this country’s socioeconomic conditions. He continues to seek out innovative solutions to the challenges of photographing life as-it-is, creating works that both speak to the social fabric of contemporary America and reflect broader experiences of being and seeing in the world today.

As his first body of work produced in the United States, American Night chronicles Graham’s initial impressions of this country and its socioeconomic divisions. Through the combination of nearly invisible, overexposed images and full-color photographs, the work presents contrasting views that suggest contemporary America’s unspoken but omnipresent class divide.

The series a shimmer of possibility is the product of journeying and roaming across everyday America. Rather than striving for a single, decisive image, Graham embraces the stuttering process of seeing and recognizing. Unfolding as an American epic of the small and incidental, Graham’s sequences of photographs span gaps of time and place, their interweaving of narrative threads, their digressions and shifts of scene creating imaginative spaces and a sense of the country at large, while mirroring its social divisions and discrepancies alongside the unpredictable fluctuations of life. Originally released as a set of twelve individual books, Pier 24 Photography has dedicated a single gallery to each volume of a shimmer of possibility.

The Present recalls the tradition of New York street photography, encapsulating the frenetic energy of Manhattan and the constant shifts in attention between people and places on the city’s unruly stage. Through groupings of two or three photographs, Graham mimics the fluidity of urban consciousness by adjusting his camera’s focus across brief fractions of time. In The Present, tragedy, comedy, dignity and sadness are all woven into the cloth of life in the unavoidable condition of the city.

In conjunction with this exhibition, MACK will publish a 240-page hardcover monograph dedicated to these bodies of work.


About the Artist

Over the past three decades, Paul Graham has traveled widely, producing thirteen distinct bodies of work. He has published a dedicated monograph for nearly every series, most famously his twelve-volume collection entitled a shimmer of possibility. This book was honored with the 2011 Paris Photo Book Prize for the most important photography book published in the past 15 years.

Graham has been the subject of more than 80 solo exhibitions worldwide. In 2001, photographs from his series Paintings were included in the exhibition, Plateau of Humankind, as part of the 49th Venice Biennale. In 2003, American Night was exhibited at P.S.1 Contemporary Art Center, and in 2009, a shimmer of possibility was exhibited at the Museum of Modern Art in New York City. In 2011, the Museum Folkwang, Essen and the Whitechapel Gallery in London mounted Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006, a twenty-five-year survey of the artist's work. Graham is the recipient of numerous honors and awards, including the 2009 Deutsche Börse Photography Prize and the 2012 Hasselblad Foundation International Award, considered to be photography's highest honor.

Read More Exhibition Catalog Read Artist Interview

Featured Press

Paul Graham and Seizing the Everyday Moments
The New York Times 02/18/2016

Paul Graham takes over Pier 24 with his American trilogy
British Journal of Photography 01/01/2016

Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale
Afterimage 01/01/2016

Paul Graham at Pier 24 Photography
San Francisco Arts Quarterly - SFAQ 11/04/2015

Paul Graham: The Whiteness of the Whale
Aperture Magazine 10/28/2015

The Whiteness of the Whale - Catalog Review
Photo-eye 10/14/2015

Photographer’s work shines light on ‘invisibility of the poor’
The San Francisco Chronicle 10/10/2015

Interview with Paul Graham
Photograph Magazine 09/01/2015

Paul Graham’s Photos Tell Expansive Story of Everyday America
KQED 08/20/2015

America, The Photogenic
San Francisco Magazine 07/27/2015