What is it about the American landscape that has captivated photographers for so many decades? From Robert Frank’s still seminal road trips across the country, to the countless efforts that have followed (and, of course, preceded his work), there is something about the breadth, width and intensity of America which seems to call out to the camera.
American photographer David Graham, for decades, has felt this pull. Tirelessly traveling the United States, Graham captures the colorful, sometimes surreal, and often bizarre, in the thoroughly American landscape. Drawn, in part, by the characteristically expressive American soul, Graham has been on the road for over thirty years and still has not had his fill. In Graham’s words, “While the majority of folks keep to themselves, there are others who want to share their loves and desires with the world—I take advantage of that. I love the hunt.”
In Graham’s impressive photographic pedigree, we can understand the origins of his work. Formally, compositionally, he was schooled by Ray Metzker, who taught Graham to put attention into the structure of his pictures and the execution of the print. In terms of subject matter, Graham was influenced by his other great teacher, Emmet Gowin, who also offered the gift of the 8 x 10 camera, a “life-changing” tool.
But influences aside, what can explain the irresistibility of a garish fast-food sign or a larger-than-life roadside attraction? Perhaps, as Graham speculates, it’s “because the majority of building and expansion [in America] has taken place during the life span of the photographic process.” Or, maybe it has more to do with Graham’s personal predilections, in which the built environment offers an ever-changing mirror on how we think of ourselves. Indeed, Graham calls himself “an architectural photographer,” in spite of the portraits he’s produced.
Or perhaps it’s the simplest motivation of all: “I am addicted to taking photographs…I HAVE to photograph. In fact, on this gorgeous Autumn day, I wish I was shooting right now…” Whatever the reason, Graham continues to chronicle the ever-changing, yet seemingly eternal American scene with unflagging enthusiasm. Although this doesn’t explain the universal pull, at least we can enjoy Graham’s own, idiosyncratic perspective.