In Beyond Caring, Paul Graham chronicles the breakdown in the British Social Welfare system during the heyday of Thatcherism in the early- and mid-1980s. This Errata Editions version (Books on Books #9) reproduces every page in the original book, alongside essays by David Chandler and Jeffrey Ladd, and it’s a great way to experience the work, in book form, now that original versions are fetching $350 dollars or more…
Between Thatcher on one side of the Atlantic, and Reagan on the other, the early 1980s saw a massive transfer of power and wealth from the commoners/low- and middle-class to the elites/super-rich, and consequent near-total breakdown of social services and polite society… The people pushed back in Britain, with help of books like Beyond Caring, but the damage was done here.
Looking back at these pictures now, I see the same sorts of government offices I’ve been in and out of—courthouses, tax assessors offices, drivers license bureaus, etc.—in Texas, Illinois and New York. I expect they’re more or less the same throughout the rest of the US, at least in older, more established areas.* In fact, facilities in Beyond Caring look almost lavish in comparison, and if the long lines Graham captured with his Plaubel Makina 67 under his coat contributed to a public outcry that drove state action, he should visit some of the facilities in Tarrant or Dallas or Sangamon or Suffolk counties… Granted, we’ve had more than 30 years to keep wearing ours down, but still. If Beyond Caring helped to move the needle back towards a sense of interconnectedness, it speaks to great cultural differences between the Brits and Americans: as a society, it seems that they care how they look, have some sense that we all have to work together to make things easier for everyone, even if that means some people at the top (and in the middle, if we’re being honest) do a bit worse, economically; we don’t so much, or, rather, we seem to be only concerned with me and maximizing benefit to me, let everyone else go hang.
It’s much more complex than that, I’m sure.
Beyond Caring was Paul Graham’s second book, and started out as a commission to photograph “Britain in 1984.” At the time, the unemployment rate in England was shockingly high, unemployment and welfare offices were well past capacity, and the state accounts for paying out the dole were stretched thin. The pictures capture the boredom and exhaustion inherent in long-term unemployment, both on the side of the unemployed, and on the side of the state that depends on employment to collect revenues: the rumpled clothes and baggy eyes look of a piece with the peeling paint and sagging ceilings. It’s no wonder that Beyond Caring is equally prized by photobook collectors and leftist activists alike.
Comparing/Contrasting this Books on Books (#9) with William Kline’s New York (#5), this one is hands down better, in my opinion. Each spread from Beyond Caring gets one spread in #9, where New York often had 4 spreads to 1, making many of the best known photographs too small to really see, let alone study or appreciate. Also, this one has at least 2 contact sheets (maybe more: I don’t have it in front of me just now) from Graham’s archive, giving a deeper look into his process, compared to 1 in the Kline reprint. Speaking of process: one of the brief essays speaks of Graham surreptitiously shooting his usual Plaubel Makina 67 camera for Beyond Caring, and I can’t really imagine being unobtrusive with a camera that big, or having a coat big enough to successfully hide that particular camera in it. But then, 1985 was a different time, and people were maybe less aware of cameras than they are now: I sometimes get hard looks for my little Olympus XA, and it’s tiny. Anyway.
Beyond Caring (Books on Books #9) is out of print, but still readily available all over the place. It’s worth picking up, whether you’re a photobook collector, a leftist activist, or, and maybe especially, a Paul Graham fan.
*The tax office down in Grand Prairie is about 5 years old, and all shiny and new. It’s still all lines and jaded employees and basic civic building/environment, and give it 10 or 15 years and it’ll look shabbier than anything in Beyond Caring.