This exercise asks me to answer a number of questions regarding the series, Washing-up 2000, by photographer Nigel Shafran.
Nigel Shafran began his photography career in the fashion industry. He later realised that fashion was not what he ‘wanted to pursue, because of the way it depicts women, and the aspirational values it promotes, suggesting you shouldn’t be happy with what you have’.
Shafran’s work mainly draws on elements from his personal life. He uses his wife’s whereabouts and a series which features stacks of washing-up with accompanying text listing the foods eaten to highlight how we organise and arrange our domestic surroundings. ‘What interests me isn’t grand themes, but the everyday. It’s the side of our sink, which is where we keep food waste and packaging before they are put on the compost heap or stuck in the recycling bin. It’s lit by the kitchen light.’
‘My work is about a build-up of images, often in sequences. There is a connection between them all. Basically, I’m a one-trick pony: it’s all life and death and that’s it.’
Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?
Obviously, I recognised the photographer’s name as male but, I have to admit that I didn’t give any more consideration to his gender until the course text presented the above question. Having been asked if I was surprised that the images were taken by a man, I would have to say, no. Shafran’s images are autobiographical, recording a series of trivial events in his life, the same routine events that most of us carry out daily but, never really consider. Shafran’s images reveal the facts of the meal/washing up events rather than the emotion surrounding it. Although not exclusive to men, I believe this non-emotional approach to image making to be more a male inclination than female.
In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
I believe gender does contribute to the creation of an image but, no more so than religious beliefs, race, politics, social standing, education etc… The pictures we make are heavily influenced by the people we are. I was initially going to try and argue the point that women produce more emotionally driven work. I was going to use Sophie Calle and Briony Campbell as examples. Sophie Calle’s series, Take Care of Yourself, is very much a emotional response to the break up letter she received from her boyfriend. Similarly, Briony Campbell’s The Dad Project, is an emotionally driven record of her coming to terms with her fathers illness and ultimate death. My intention was then to refer to men who approach their chosen subjects with a degree of detachment, namely, William Eggleston and Nigel Shafran, both of whom record the banal and ordinary of everyday life, with little room for obvious emotion.
Maybe men find it harder to reveal their emotions than women, or maybe not. Male OCA student, Peter Mansell documents the challenges he faces daily, living as a wheelchair user by photographing what is common and ordinary to him. While his individual images often featuring ordinary items from his life, viewed together they stir strong feelings of empathy. Interestingly, Peter Mansell describes how he became ‘attracted to speaking visually about things that were important’ to him, resulting in ‘images that were often much more mundane in terms of subject matter’.
Anna Paola Guerra is a female photographer who chooses banal, unremarkable subjects such a soap boxs, stools and plants. Paola Guerra says her subject ‘don’t need words. No communication, no information. They are about something else resisting the imperative of making sense, meanings and stories’.
I’ve given examples of both male and female photographers, who approach their practice with a level of detachment, and those who are charged with emotion. There is no simple yes or no to this question, there is no easy pigeonholing. However, there is common ground between the sexes. Ultimately, I believe nothing is created in isolation.
What does this series achieve by not including people?
By not including people, Shafran has allowed the viewer to create their own narrative and meaning. He has chosen a very effective and subtle approach. Through the image and text, Shafran reveals the details, while the circumstances are left to the viewer. The inclusion of a person might, through body language, gesture and facial expression, channel the viewer towards a particular narrative.
Do you regard them as interesting ‘still-life’ compositions?
Several years ago, I probably would have been indifferent to Shafran’s work. Now, after a number of years of increased exposure, understanding and analysis of photography, and indeed the wider art world, I have a far greater appreciation. I do like his images, I only wish I had come across his work before carrying out the Assignment Two. In Assignment Two, I was trying to demonstrate banal and repetitive elements in everyday life, and Nigel Shafran would have been a very useful contemporary reference.
Boothroyd, S. (2015) ‘Still Life with Nigel Shafran’, WeAreOCA, 7 May, available: http://weareoca.com/photography/still-life-with-nigel-shafran/ [accessed 20 Oct 2015].
Mansell, P. (2015) A Visual Discourse on Disability [online], available: http://clkpete.weebly.com/ [accessed 20 Oct 2015].
Paola Guerra, A. (2015) Anna Paola Guerra [online], available: http://annapaolaguerra.com/ [accessed 20 Oct 2015].
Philips, S. (2010) ‘Photographer Nigel Shafran’s best shot’, The Guardian, 21 Apr, available: http://www.theguardian.com/artanddesign/2010/apr/21/photography-nigel-shafran-best-shot [accessed 20 Oct 2015].
Shafran, N. (2015) Nigel Shafran [online], available: http://nigelshafran.com/ [accessed 20 Oct 2015].