Wednesday, 17 December 2014

Nigel Shafran

Nigel Shafran (1964 -  )

During Assignment 3 I photographed some washing up on the draining board in the kitchen. The image was never used in that assignment as it didn’t  fit in with the style I needed although on its own it is a  strong photograph and was later used as one of my entries in the 45th Eastern Open, where it was selected and won an award.  Another reason for not selecting it into the assignment was it didn’t say much about being a Carer, we all have washing up and it could have been the washing up from any home. What washing does show is a punctuation mark in the day. It comes after eating, which it turn comes after cooking a meal and so is part of a simple narrative of the day. What I didn’t know about this image was that it looks very similar to the work of Nigel Shafran. Such coincidences are rare and it is embarrassing to have to explain that I am not plagiarising Shafran’s work as I found him after making my image. This confirms that there is nothing new in image making and gives me confidence to continue in this genre.
Shafran began his photographic career as a fashion photographer in the 1980’s and worked on a number of prestigious magazines, only to become disillusioned with that world and has since turned his camera inward, onto his family and his own close environment, employing techniques in still life usually associated with painting than photography.
Having found Shafran and viewed his work online I obtained a book of his work, Edited Photographs 1992 - 2004, Photoworks, 2004

Shafran’s work is inspirational and he is now on a small list of photographers who are having an influence on how I think and work in photography. The shared interest is in how we can trace human activity through the statements that are left behind when the humans have gone, the placing of objects, the constructions and ephemera, as seen in washing up.

The images are simple, almost to the extent that they are banal, but there is language in them through semiotics and interpretation, often something left for the viewer to complete and an element of ambiguity.

Shafran’s images are not studio constructions, they are found objects of every day life. Similar in some respects to the work of Edward Weston who had a similar affinity with the found objects such as his toilet, peppers and a cabbage. There is however careful placing of the camera and an acute awareness of the natural light falling onto the scene. In recent years there is wide discourse on the “real” and the realist. Straight or pure photography is a strong voice with many in contemporary practice and I am one who feels at ease with this genre, in preference to work that is being described as “post photography” with its reliance on overt manipulation and the inclusion of the bizarre. Some confuse straight photography with simple photography and that is in fact far from its intention. The connotations, the signified and the semiotics within an image do not require the work to be overtly complicated.

Shafran works mainly with a large format camera (often using a Polaroid frame before the main image), making his work as life unfolds and this requires a dedicated approach with strict criteria and an artists eye for what is right and wrong to include when surrounded by endless potential. His high production values are a feature of his work I am interested in and seek  to include in my own work. I no longer have a 5x4 camera but will continues this type of work using 6x6 format film.
Shafran has attracted much critical discourse and during an interview in 2000 with Paul Elliman Shafran explains “why washing up ?”

“I wanted to start the New Year with something optimistic. And Personal. Something with lots of shapes, where shapes would change, keep changing. Also something in which the light was important, the kitchen window or the overhead kitchen light, I mean, I really wanted to have one lit by lightning, havent got that yet. There are signs of ageing in it, like signs of time, of course”

Charlotte Cotton talks of his work and its intuitive nature.

“With an understated photographic style, use of ambient light and relatively long exposures, he transforms these scenes into poetic observations about the ways we conduct our lives through our unconscious acts of ordering, stacking and displaying objects. There is something highly intuitive in Shafran’s way of working”   (Cotton, 2009, p.121)

Shafran’s work is widely published. He has six books, numerous awards, five solo exhibitions, many group exhibitions and has lectured and a number of  universities and art colleges.


Cotton, C., 2009. The Photograph as Contemporary Art. Thames and Hudson

Photographs to be added when permissions received.


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