Still Life with Nigel Shafran
From, Washing Up 2000, 2000
I visited Nigel Shafran in his studio today to ask some questions about his (in my mind) unique approach to art based photography. Although his work is highly esteemed in the gallery / photo-book world he says he feels restricted by ideas and much prefers to think of himself as a photographer than an artist. As he talked about this he snapped his fingers a few times, referring to the moment he sees a picture and knows he wants to take it. Instinct.
Family photographs are often the pictures that are most important to people. Indeed the family album informs Nigel’s work but he intensifies them in a way, like heightened snapshots. Whether the images are beautifully lit, composed 5×4 pictures of the washing up (Washing Up 2000) or taken on the small sensor of a handheld digital camera, (Supermarket Checkouts, 2005), threads of quietness and reflection seem to wind their way through his photography, often in the genre of still life.
From Dad’s Office, 1997-99.
He is refreshingly understated about achievement. “To continue to be connected to yourself” was his answer to a definition of success. Far from the glitz and glam of the life of a photographer for Nigel the success is in the work itself. If he loses interest in it it marks the end of the work, if it continues to interest him it opens doors. But it seems that being able to be present with himself and aware of the moment is what makes him the photographer he is. Whether you think it’s mundane or poignant or moving or boring is, in a sense, besides the point. Speaking of ‘Dad’s Office‘ when I asked him if it was always intended to be a book he said ‘No! Of course not! It drove me.”
Coming from a commercial background in fashion photography perhaps this world has inversely influenced his personal practice; like being able to choose his own subjects, or allowing them to choose him* or seeing things in the commercial world that he wanted to subvert or how it may have positively influenced his sense of design when making books. (Shafran remains heavily involved in the production of his books, working with designers and publishers but always with his personal vision as the central aim.) Perhaps his personal practice is a place where those frustrations of a commercial world could be released and reclaimed as his own.
From Ruthbook, 1992-2004
Pictures of his wife on the phone, or moments at the supermarket or ‘little sad London trees’, or compost, or recycling; these are the moments that make up the bulk of Shafran’s oeuvre – and only he can make them. But at the same time, these mundane ‘snapshots’ do resound universally. We do share our versions of these moments and we do feel essentially human when we take the time to notice them. That’s what Shafran’s work does for me, it connects me to a quieter pace of life.
When do you feel connected to yourself in your work?
Do you ever let the work find you?
*Incidentally, and quite beside the point, this is the advice I got given by cat lovers when I was looking for a new kitten, scrolling website after website for hours on end. I thought I should keep looking just in case, but couldn’t find the right one. Nauseatingly when I gave up an email came through with a cute little tabby who had been abandoned down the road. Yes, she is now our best friend forever.