ONE OF A KIND
In an era of divisiveness, One Of A Kind is a story in photographs of the great diversity that we find in this world, told in a way that recognizes the common struggles and triumphs that we each experience. It is edited by renowned Los Angeles gallerist and curator David Fahey with an essay by noted photographic curator and expert on photographer Irving Penn, Colin Westerbeck. This 9.5x12.5” volume of one hundred photographs will be printed utilizing the finest materials and processes possible and is a intended to be a timeless document of humanity.
by Donald Graham
My portraits are about honest moments that display qualities of the human character including wisdom and sensitivity, peace and vulnerability, both joy and tragedy. I seek to make portraits that are driven by one’s inner dialog. I’m not interested in poses or performances for the benefit of the camera. I’m interested in what a person is like when they are their most authentic. I strive to strip away the veneer of the persona through interaction and trust so that a humanity emerges that we usually see only in our intimate relationships. I seek a photograph where the face is no longer a beautifully decorated and carefully arranged facade but instead a canvas where the inner world of the person draws unique and complex stories into the face of the subject.
“One Of A Kind” began more than thirty years ago when I decided to make a portrait of my mother. She had Multiple Sclerosis, compounded by a severe stroke. She couldn’t move her legs or arms, her hands and face were contorted, and the only words she could say were yes and no. Yet, she lived with a gracefulness, an inner peace, and a smile that I found remarkable. Her relationship with adversity inspires me every day. I wanted to make a photograph that revealed who I knew her to be and honored the complexity of her situation. Her portrait began this series of photographs. It became the standard by which I judged all subsequent photographs I made.
In this series of portraits, the individuals I have photographed are from a wide cultural and social spectrum. I have made these portraits in India, Tibet, Jamaica, Mali, Europe and throughout the United States. There is a story in every face, punctuated by combinations of strength and vulnerability. Expressions allude to emotional history and life experiences. These portraits are a collaboration. Building trust in order to make a meaningful image takes time. I have to dissolve self-imposed facades, and move past each person’s routine of how to act while being photographed. My approach can be different with every person. One of my objectives is illuminating an inner essence of each person. I try to make portraits that enrich our understanding of the complexities of the human condition.
These portraits come from a desire to honor the beauty of uniqueness, character, and imperfection while remaining sensitive to the pain of the human experience. Every life is one of a kind, never to be repeated. These are tough stories told with grace.
by Colin Westerbeck
I feel as if my relationship with Donald Graham has in some way brought my career as a photo historian full circle. That career began 40 years ago in New York when I met the street photographer Joel Meyerowitz, who was a competition swimmer in his youth, like Graham, and who has also had a serious interest in Buddhism throughout his life. Though Graham is a portraitist, not a street photographer, the mix of swimming and Buddhism is an appropriate preparation for any career in photography. In all its forms and genres, photography requires the instant reflexes of an athlete tempered by the inner calmness of a Buddhist.
by Casey Woods
After the church service we stood out front in the late summer blaze of Arkansas sun. I watched the little boy step up on the white background, clutching his Bible. “Do you want me to smile?”, he said, staring wide-eyed at the camera lens. “Just be yourself”, Don said. The boy’s face flooded with relief and he stood a little taller, gazing at Don evenly. I held my breath as I watched them together, knowing it would be one of the best pictures of the shoot.
I have witnessed similar scenes in environments as varied as you can imagine. I have watched Don photograph tribesman in Mali, Elvis impersonators in Memphis, and strung-out-ex-hippies in Tompkins square Park. Each he has treated the same. From a preacher to a model, from a Tibetan medicine woman to a porn star, each was treated with the same respect. The pictures he creates on the white background are a direct illustration of his vision. On that clean white canvas, all his subjects are created equal, free for a moment from a world that insists we judge or label all that we see. Don documents a rare space born of believing in the best in people, finding beauty in character, uniqueness, and the imperfections of the human spirit that make it whole.
Don’s gift comes from a basic conviction that there is a truth at the heart of humanity that can be captured with a camera. It’s not about glamour or shock value or even aesthetic.
It’s about using honesty to tell a story of the stunning variety embedded in the commonality of our human experience. That is why in his work these people from all backgrounds, appearances, and persuasions stand side by side, shoulder to shoulder with no rank or destination.
Because they belong that way.
Writer and Columnist, The Miami Herald