Thursday, April 08, 2021

Travelling back in time

Writing about Glenn Edwards' photo zine on the A470 for Wales Arts Review, I compared Wales' answer to Route 66 favourably to "the more photographically feted A1 - a flat, monotonous artery offering views of little more than rubbish-strewn verges, grubby truckers' caffs that time forgot and former Little Chefs converted into sex shops". I'll admit I was overegging it for effect - I've written elsewhere about my enduring fondness for the road that in my childhood was the passport to pretty much anywhere.

That was in the course of promoting Peter Dench's series Britain On The Verge. This time, it's to direct you to an article about the project that inspired Dench's post-Brexit roadtrip (as well as Jon Nicholson's jaunt, the result of which sits on my bookshelves), Paul Graham's A1: The Great North Road.

It's a familiar tale: labour-of-love work made by a youthful artist obsessed with his medium, met with disinterest, only to gradually gain acclaim and assume significant cultural status over the ensuing years. Shot in the early 1980s, Graham's wonderful pictures - of grubby truckers' caffs and Little Chefs, incidentally - helped to convince other documentary photographers that they needn't artificially restrict themselves to black and white. 

"I think 1980, it's further away than it sounds", Graham told Huck's Zoe Whitfield. "You look at [the photos] and realise: wow, that was a different era." And yet I'd suggest that they capture the A1 perfectly - a road caught in a timewarp, more of a memory lane than any motorway.

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