Roundabout, Andersonstown, Belfast, from the series 'Troubled Land'
Vintage C-type print
67.7 x 87.6 cms (26.61 x 34.43 ins)
The Photographer's Gallery, 1988
A Green and Pleasant Land: Landscape and the imagination, 1970-now, Towner Art Gallery, Eastbourne, 2017-18 (This print)
Troubled Land: Social Landscape of Northern Ireland, London, Grey Editions, 1987.
Paul Graham: Paul Graham Photographs 1981-2006, G, Steidl, 2009, p. 109.
From the edition of 10. Signed verso, and numbered 10/10.Anderstontown, Belfast is one of Paul Graham's seminal images from his most celebrated publication Troubled Landscape: Social Landscape in Northern Ireland.
Graham's photograph Roundabout, Anderstontown, Belfast, 1984, exemplifies his innovativeness as a photographer by marrying both technological advancement and political engagement to create a subtle, but powerful image, which helped to elevate the status of colour photography beyond the world of satire and advertising.
According to critics in the early 1980s, colour photography was seen as less political than photographs taken in black and white film. Critic, Susan Butler, wrote in 1985 for Creative Camera, documentary photographs in colour requires "anthropological readings, as opposed to a more overtly political [reading]." (Susan Bright, From Today Black and White Is Dead, Creative Camera, December 1985) Engaged photography was falling out of favour in institutional space.
In response to a 1984 Photographer's Gallery commission, Graham created Troubled Landscape, which helped to develop a position for socially engaged photography in the post-modern art institution. Graham made his first visit to Northern Ireland in 1984, drawing him into emotionally and politically unknown territory. Upon observing the situation, he realised that the Troubles were an essential and urgent part of the wider political context in Britain. Graham said, "At certain times in one's life, you decide that there are things which you have to face up to, especially if they are happening in your own country and in your name. In 1984, unemployment was being used as a weapon with which to repress people.. at the same time, a war was going on." (Paul Graham, Man with a Moving Camera, an interview with Paul Bonaventura, Artefactum 3, 1994)
According to scholar, David Chandler, Graham felt he needed to move beyond a superficial photographic representation to find "a language for the complexity and uncertainty of what was happening, not through the drama of events but in the patina of everyday experiences." (David Chandler, Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006, 2009)
Despite having been met with frustration during the first months of his project, Roundabout, became the key image for Graham to develop that captured the complex situation in Northern Ireland. Addressing the present work, Graham recalled, that towards the end of his first visit, he was stopped by an army patrol officer. Because he did not have a press pass, he was told not to take any more photographs. As the soldier left, he held his Prelex to his chest as he had done for his project Beyond Caring, and took a photograph. It was not until Graham returned to his dark room that he recognised the significance of that moment. Graham said, "when I got back to the studio, I found that here was the only interesting negative out of two months' work. It wasn't how you were supposed to frame the action in those situations. I wasn't close up. I hadn't zoomed in on any incident, things were distant and scattered, I'd returned to the action to its incident, things were distant and scattered. I'd returned the action to its context. It broke many unwritten rules." (Paul Graham, Man with a Moving Camera)
At first glance, the image seems rather innocuous, an idyllic suburban landscape, but upon further examination one notices the soldier running to catch up with his fellow colleague, or the graffiti that says, Tout's Beware and P.I.R.A (Provisional Irish Republican Army) scribbled on the iron barricades. The inclusion of those subtle details is fundamental to what Chandler describes as the, "the double-take" paradigm of Troubled Landscape.(David Chandler, Paul Graham: Photographs 1981-2006, 2009) The lush greenery and rolling hills capture a cliched view of the Irish landscape, but Graham included the discreet, but pervasive details that indicate social upheaval and widespead violence. The juxtaposition constructs an unsettling photograph that escapes the photojournalistic tropes of over-dramatising for effect. Graham's images demand respect and contemplation, ultimately, developing a visual language that integrates both technology and the political for the post-modern landscape.