Paul Graham’s 1986 photobook Beyond Caring was made with the same instrument — the Plaubel Makina 6X7 — Martin Parr used for his photobook The Last Resort, originally released the same year and reviewed here a few weeks ago. But the results could not be further apart.
Both trained an eye on Thatcher England, but while Parr found the lively and garish color in the middle-class on vacation, Graham paints a much darker, and perhaps more accurate picture of the state of the nation. In 1985 and 1986, Graham visited Social Security offices throughout England. He applied for permission from the DHSS, but was denied; so he surreptitiously made pictures without looking through the viewfinder — propping the camera on chairs or floors, holding it at waist level. The resulting compositions — skewed, voyeuristic — reflect a life out of balance. The Plaubel-Makina is a rangefinder and thus does not make the conspicuous ka-chunk of an SLR, so his subjects are unaware of and unaffected by his presence. What they are affected by is the tedium and desperation of bleak and sometimes filthy government offices, usually crowded and understaffed, where waits could last up to three hours and the payoff could be zero.
Graham came out of a school of New Color photographers in Britain, of which Parr is the most famous. But Graham’s eye is more socially conscious than his contemporaries’. Errata Editions reissued this book in their standard format — a facsimile that reproduces page layouts of the published tome. A frequent complaint made about this strategy is that the pictures lose some impact — more than usual in the case of Beyond Caring, a landscape-oriented paperback reissued as a portrait-landscape hardback. But Errata is to be lauded for making rare photobooks available for a fraction of their cost on the collectors’ market, developing an affordable library of classic and contemporary photography.