Reality Check  / British Council and the Photographer’s Gallery Exhibition

Shafran’s carefully composed photographs, in which the vernacular is closely observed and recorded, reveal very little evidence of his early commercial training in New York. Whilst advertising and fashion tend to celebrate the immediate, the sensational and fantasy, Shafran’s independent work bears aII the hallmarks of the anti-rhetorical, drawing its inspiration from the contingent, the provisional and the particular.

Restricting his subject-matter to things close to hand, whether they be his kitchen, charity shops around his studio or his father’s office, Shafran recycles the personal and everyday into something more akin to social documents. The specifics of place (mainly suburban London where Shafran grew up) and time (capturing a socio-historic moment at the end of the twentieth century) are carefully inscribed in his works.

Washing-Up 2000 comprises an extended series (totalling 170 images produced over the course of a year) in which Shafran documented his daily routine (what he ate and how he felt) in various domestic settings, mostly at home but sometimes abroad. Taken with a large-format camera using only available light, and in most cases long exposures, the resulting still lifes provide a formal and personal diary of a certain place and time. Formal elements, such as a bright green washing-up bowl, yellow gloves, stainless steel colander, recur throughout the series, accentuated and transformed through dramatic changes in light and atmosphere. As in traditional still-life painting, in which specific objects such as the hour-glass and human skulls were introduced to symbolise mortality and the brevity of life, here the recurrence and disappearance of certain motifs and changing atmospheric conditions within the series suggest the passage of time and contingencies of daily life.

In his new series Stuff (2002), Shafran directs his seemingly artless gaze on to another vernacular space, where everyday goods are recycled and sold, exemplified by the street market, recycling compound or high street charity shop. Typical of his light-handed approach is the manner in which Shafran captures the provisional nature of the renovations of the charity shops and hints at their former existence. The hastily erected changing rooms, the handmade signs, the impromptu arrangement of the clothes and goods, all betray the personal intervention of the volunteers who run these shops .Attracted by the fact that here ‘the shop doesn’t choose the goods, the goods choose the shops’, Shafran provides visual evidence of the flip side of 1990s excess and rampant consumerism. If you look closely, it is all there in the details – the botched DIY, the fire extinguisher hidden by redundant business ties, warning signs about surveillance. Bringing Eugene Atget’s scrutiny to the stuff of modern life, Shafran’s poetic eye delivers an intimate social portrait of our time.

Brett Rogers