Beyond CaringPaul Graham

(Grey Editions, 1986)

In the early-1980′s, Britain’s Conservative government’s economic polices had engineered a polarized nation and a dispirited under-class. Discarding the welfare of the many for the privilege of the few, the resulting UK unemployment rate was at a staggering 12 percent. The Department of Heath and Social Security was the last hope for the abandoned—a reservoir of the vulnerable, disenchanted and hopeless.

In 1983 Paul Graham was asked by The Photographers’ Gallery to contribute to an Orwellian-influenced photographic portrait of a nation: “Britain in 1984.” This commission would lead to Beyond Caring, a passionate and disheartening portrait of England’s unemployment offices. Part funded by the left-wing-led Greater London Council, and self-published two years later, Beyond Caring would come to define a seminal moment in British photography.

Graham was an early pioneer of the “new color photography” in Britain. Influenced by practitioners in the US such as Eggleston and Shore, this radical aesthetic provocatively discarded the principles of traditional documentary practice. In Graham’s fluorescent-lit, purgatorial collection of waiting rooms and cubicles, the muted colors articulate every last detail of hopelessness—a body of evidence that reads more as a damning indictment than a disengaged work of art.

Beyond Caring is an angry work, fuelled by Graham’s own experiences in the welfare system; a political and partisan cry for the reform of an over-burdened, broken and bureaucratic institution. Beyond Caring is evidence of an artist passionately and sincerely engaged with a social concern, and an articulate body of work that has radically influenced and forever changed the practice of many that have followed.

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