Exercise · Changing Britain-arts council

British Photographers in relation to ‘Documentary Dilemmas’
Paul Graham

‘Paul Graham studied for a BSc at Bristol University and in 1980 held his first exhibition, House Portraits: photographs of modern detached suburban houses. These pictures provided evidence of Graham’s attraction to social themes and to the traces of history in the everyday, a recurrent theme of his work’ (arts council) [1]

I have long been attracted to Graham’s work having seen various exhibitions of his. He has a way of telling a story in an almost indirect and covert manner, not really revealing exactly what he is getting at but leading the viewer to look and think about the theme. I find his work at times unassuming but engaging intellectually.

A photographer that makes an image of a roundabout in Northern Ireland when the rest of the press world is focused on deep divisions and conflict makes his work stimulating.

Paul Reas


Reas in his series ‘flogging a dead horse’ seems to take a surrealist approach to the photography he makes. As with many series that are based on British documentary they tend to focus on leisure and spare time, choosing to look at what the British do when they are ‘off duty’. Here, I believe that Reas also takes this as his main focus drawing on events that have taken place in the context of fetes or minor British festivals. In this case the focus is particularly that of the emergence and arrival of Heritage sites, a relatively new industry up to this point. His technique involved candid images and often gave a titled frame to the images which acts to provide a certain quirkiness to the scene.

Martin Parr

Parr is one of the British documentarians perhaps most recognised for interesting palettes of colours and surrealist beachside images of Brits at play. He has an uncanny way of portraying the subtly subdued absurdity of the English. This image as part of his portfolio ‘The cost of living’ is no exception. In this image below one sees a certain signifier or overtone of upperclass snobbery whilst encountering a man of colour who seems somehow to be aware of the game that is being played.


Anna foxWork stations

Fox captures uncannily, an atmosphere and distils it at the time of Thatcherite Britain. Here work shows a period that I imagine reflects the general beginnings of fragmentation within British society, privatisation and a number of other social maladies arising at the time.

Fox was a student of Parr and Graham thus we identify a reminiscent or faint air of Parr in particular in the off hand surrealism that Fox presents. The work in this series is said to present the social discord of the times, during Thatcher’s Britain (Durden, 2009) [4]. Fox, representing one of the group of the ‘new documentarists’ (Bright, 2005)  challenges the boundaries between traditional reportage, portraiture and landscape photography (Bright, 2005) [5].

Her depiction of yuppies at leisure, office workers celebrating a financial win and other such images depicts to me a narrow sense of worth, whereby people are brought down to the level of the economy and pastimes. It seems like the people in the photos lack a depth of character. Of course, an image can only show so much of any individual but the contextual setting and signifiers point to this, for me.


  1. Arts council [online] http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/graham-paul-1956 [accessed, April 2020]
  2. Reas, P. 
  3. Parr, M. The cost of living (1985-86) [online] http://visualarts.britishcouncil.org/collection/artists/parr-martin-1952/object/royal-commonwealth-society-function-for-a-summer-evening-bath-england-parr-198586-the-cost-of-living-p7494/objects/all/initial/p/page/2 [accessed, April 2020]
  4. Durden M. Photo8, Anna Fox: Photographs 1983-2007 [online]http://www.foto8.com/live/anna-fox-photographs-1983-2007-2/ [accessed, April 2020]

Published by Truevisionphotography

I'm a student photographer studying through the OCA a UK based arts university. I'm in the foundation year of my studies and enjoying it immensely. I'm also a yoga teacher and co-founder of Bodhiyoga a buddhism based yoga teacher training program that runs in the UK and Spain each year. As a photographer I'm interested in all forms of fine art. I find the arts really important in my life. I love nature and aim to be in the outdoors as much as I can. Generally I think that all the different strands of my life are flowing to towards self development in the greatest sense of the term. The arts, buddhist practice yoga and meditation are all tools to that end. I feel committed to communication the these values in the world both through the visual arts as well as teaching.

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