American Nights | Unseen Landscapes

Since looking at Paul Graham’s American Night work again, I’ve been reflecting on my own approach to ‘disrupting linear perspective’ in assignment 2. I’ve not had a tutorial on this yet, but received some feedback from other students. Some liked the insets, others weren’t so sure.

Paul’s work makes the ignored divides in American society visible by using whited out (overexposed) images of the poor, interspersed with full colour images of affluent housing (without people). The whiting out asks a visual question and the full colour images drive home the answer. Towards the end of the work, street portraits of the poor in full colour add a second assault to the senses.

© Paul Graham, source:

There is a similar idea that I’m trying to convey in my BoW – marginal landscapes that are shaped by culture but not often represented in images of place, which tend to be more interested in the spectacular or the pastoral. A kind of denial or ignoring of their existence that misrepresents space and therefore culture. Making things seem brighter than they are – ignoring the darker corners. When shooting an old building yesterday, a passerby asked, ‘what’s over there then?’. When I explained, he jokingly commented ‘ah, each to his own with weird photography’.

Having sat with my ‘insets’ for a while, I have a number of concerns:

  • Scale is required for visibility – this is likely to be difficult to achieve in the world after lockdown and for any digital assessment of the work.
  • I thought that the insets were an effective way of disrupting the linear, having been unconvinced by using diptyches. However, Paul’s work successfully does this in a succession of images in a book, along with his over-exposure motif.
  • Condensing two images into one does not allow them to breath and perhaps hinders a viewer being able to reflect upon them – too much going on in one space.

Graham’s work has given me the cue to look at other options, including how I might work in book form, which also allows digital contactless sharing.

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2 thoughts on “American Nights | Unseen Landscapes”

  1. (I also think you’ve done a really good job of condensing your research-into-practice writing down to totally understandable, easily understood chunks like this – I still end up waffling on and on, obscuring what actually needs to be said and understood..)

    1. Thanks Simon. I try to keep in mind the quote, ‘I would have written a short letter but I didn’t have time’. Though I do sometimes make things too short, so a bit of a balancing act!

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