‘The road is a no man’s land on the edge of society,’ Rupert Martin wrote in 1983, introducing Paul Graham’s photo­graphs of the A1, ‘and its inhabitants – the staff of cafés or hotels, the lorry drivers, salesmen and others who ply the road – are often imbued with a solitary stoicism, a kind of self-sufficient melancholy.’ There are those for whom the main road between Scotland and England was more essential to society – James Boswell, for instance, who, in November 1762, travel­led the near­ly four hundred miles in a cold chaise, putting in at Berwick, Durham, Doncaster and Biggleswade. ‘When we came upon Highgate Hill,’ he wrote, ‘I was all life and joy . . . and my soul bounded forth to a cert­ain prospect of happy fut­urity.’ But it’s the melancholy of a later generation of trav­ellers that is on display in Graham’s photographs of the Old North Road, rec­ently republished by Mack (£45). The orig­inal edition had a huge influence: it was soc­ial document­ary in new colours, with sublime light effects, Vermeer-like precis­ion and a submerged sense of loss. This picture shows the view northwards from the Newcastle bypass at Tyne and Wear. Even the grass and the sky seem like 1981. That must be mainly to do with the film stock, but perhaps the sky before the inter­net was greyer and more innocent. The BP garage is an oasis of light. The chim­ney in the distance seems left behind.

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