Exercise – Nigel Shafran

Nigel Shafran’s Washing-up


11th February 2000. Muesli, tuna and salad sandwich, left over seitan ‘Irish’ stew with Nick.

 shafran-1  shafran-3

Shafran’s series uses subjects involved in everyday life, more intimately, in the home. His use of lighting and neutral tones creates a crisp, clean finish, with just a little colour to highlight and draw attention. In an interview with Charlotte Cotton (1), Shafran comments; “Sometimes I see old photographs and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there – the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things that we can relate to and hold that everydayness. I like it when something has been photographed in a simple way.” This appeals to me as I tend to see things that others may miss – insignificant items to many, but they do tell something about the owner.

Nigel Shafran’s series is the only piece of work in Part Three of the course created by a man. It is also the only one with no human figures in it, although family members are referred to in the captions.

  • Did it surprise me that this series was taken by a man? 
    Quite a sexist question really. Why would it? The subject matter, washing up, is no big deal for men in this day and age. There is a strong male presence in the kitchen, recent statistics show that nearly 80% of UK professional chefs are male. Of course different cultures across the world may view this differently. I guess without the knowledge of who the photographer is, it may be assumed that it would be a female by some, true to stereotype. So no, I was not surprised at all. I also think that the series is not about the task itself, but more about the content/objects within the images. Which I find quite interesting.
  • Does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
    I’m not convinced it does. I don’t think gender is representative of art in any form. I suppose there is some subject matter that is chosen more by men than women – there are fewer female street photographers, although Elizabeth Char (b.1956) advises; “Don’t be afraid, you are a woman and this is an advantage. People are more compliant with women. Go out, shoot and smile.” I think when it comes to creation of an image gender is irrelevant. Actual shooting may be more defined e.g. more male war photographers and train photographers – but now I’m stereotyping!
  • What does the series achieve by not including people?
    I don’t think people are necessary in this series, the absence ensures a stronger focus on the subject matter and presentation. By excluding people one can concentrate more on what the image is conveying and allows the reader to bring their own narrative to the images. I struggled to find the captions to this series initially as they are not included on Shafran’s website. The idea of tying in the images with the narrative is interesting, but at the same time it restricts the reader’s own take on the individual images. I prefer to view them without the text.
  • Are they interesting still life compositions?
    Yes I think they are in a contemporary way. Having now completed the exercises for Part Three I view the images more as self portraiture or autobiographical. Shafran has created an interesting series and one that (for me at least), is a bit of fun. I enjoyed looking at the contents in the draining rack – beer cans, empty jars. The bunch of flowers waiting for a new home in a vase, but in the mean time coordinating nicely with a plastic bowl. Then there’s the crisp white shirt soaking over the edge of the sink – stain removal in process no doubt!

1. http://nigelshafran.com/interview-with-charlotte-cotton-edited-photographs/ [accessed 16th September 2016]