Fig-1 interview 2000
Paul Elliman: I phoned on a Sunday afternoon. Wondering
who – Ruth or Nigel – had done the washing up. In fact, they’d
just come in from the allotment. Fair enough, growing
vegetables, washing the dishes – some people still think
these are part of the same cycle. So why washing up as
the subject of the series of photographs?
Nigel Shafran: Er, dunno really. It’s not supposed to be
an idea. I wanted to start the New Year with something
optimistic. And personal. Something with lots of shapes,
where shapes would change, keep changing. Also some-
thing in which the light was important, the kitchen window
or the overhead kitchen light, I mean. I really wanted to
have one that was lit by lightning, haven’t got that yet.
There are signs of ageing in it, like signs of time, of
course. I’d love to see washing up from Tudor times.
I always wonder how stuff from now will be looked at looked at
when it’s become the past – domestic stuff from the past.
Pictures of your washing up are funny, tiny historic
document I suppose, but 1 also wanted to show how
I felt, how I was feeling. It’s about me and Ruth and
where we are — when we’re at home, when we go away.
There’s a natural running order; home home home; at
Ruth’s mum and dad’s house in Dobcross; home again.
There’s one up in Scotland; there’s one taken in a caravan
in North Wales – the kitchen is marked out by a line on the
floor of the caravan, that’s funny; there’s one taken in
Susan’s apartment in Gansevoort street in NewYork.
You know, in the meatpacking district. It’s a 45 minute
exposure lit by a gay disco and some headlights across
the street. One at your in New Haven, that was the same trip
Home, home, home again. Its quite a simple format, an easy
format. I’ve done about 150, with a core of ten or twelve.
Normally I get up in the morning and do a Polaroid. I write
on the back what we had to eat the night before, then I do
an exposure…different aspects come into my mind all the time.
I dunno,sometimes the water’s on, or there’s some sudsy stuff
showing, some foam. Mainly it’s me and Ruth, I’d say.
PE: There are other pictures of your that make a direct
connection with the washing up set. Obviously the series
of cafeteria plates taken after people had eaten their
food [on the way to the washing up ?], and formally –
and domestically – those two black and white pictures
in the Dad’s office book, where the ironing board and
some boxes and things seem to shuffle themselves over
time, as if they were alive. We’ve talked before about the
picture of Ruth in the kitchen. It seems to have so many
things of yours going on in it. Your dad’s in it, or at least
his arm comes in from the right. The washing up’s there too,
stacked up on your draining board. And Ruth. So many of
your photographs are about where you lived, Powis Gardens
in London’s Golders Green.
NS: My grandmother lived in that house. My parents,
My brother and sister. Me. I lived there when I came back
from New York in 1987. I stayed there for about 8 years.
My brother lived there after I moved in with Ruth.
PE: Another Powis garden photograph that seemed very
powerful to me at the time was all those horrible things
you found stuck in your plughole
NS: Not horrible things. I still have those horrible things in a
file somewhere. One’s a bit of chicken bone. I like the
openness of it, the idea – well I don’t like the idea of ideas
but I never liked the actual picture. Couldn’t decide how to
line up the pieces. There’s one with the things straight in a row,
and one in a sort of grid. Neither of them really worked.
Six funny things : the top bit of some tomato; a leafy bit;
a piece of a spring onion; an elastic band; a bit of plastic;
a chicken bone
PE: Photography happens at the sink too. I‘ve sat with you
in your darkroom with the taps running and the
wash on, prints drying overhead or in the dryer, football
on the radio…Different light though
NS: You’re getting a bit romantic.
PE: Years ago, when your darkroom was in the bathroom
at home [Powis gardens again], you did a portrait for Vogue
of the Actress Katrin Cartledge. You photographed her in the
darkroom amongst the sinks and taps. Was that an idea ?
NS: It just felt less of a set-up at the time, less of a commercial
set-up, you know, a photography studio, with people around,
equipment, a commercial situation. Less of all that .
Funny it was for Vogue that picture. I was trying for something
less than whatever all that world is. I didn’t think about it.
I wanted to bring it home to me, or back to the photograph,
the process. It’s got my dodgers in the background, for dodging
when I’m printing. And all my toiletries. There’s a tile missing.
The chemical’s are….and my calamine lotion.
Everything together .Natural light. I think I was taking pictures
of Ruth at that time. I must have run out of ideas. Anyway, it seemed
to feel right. I had a blackout screen on the window for working,
but I could roll it up and have the normal window light. I can’t
remember…I like the luminous quality of the light coming
towards you, it’s normal – the usual window light – at home.
I like working at home, with stuff I know, instinctively. Working
with what you have in front of you, what you know. Places, things.
Stuff I know.
PE: As well as the home stuff, there’s a recurring theme of the
almost – green city in your work; your bike route along the canal
to your darkroom in Hackney, up to the point where you got mugged
by a couple of scallies…
NS: I didn’t get mugged by scallies, I nearly got thrown
in the canal. I tried to throw a punch, but I missed …
PE: Well,the canal series. And there’s an older set of tree
pictures. Trees in the city. Some of them looked like they were
shipped in from another world. Maybe they are, poor old tree’s.
How green is photography these days ?
NS: Not very . It’s not that green. My brother thinks it should be
all digital. I prefer the old craft of it. I quite like it being an old
craft. I don’t like wasting things. I keep my waste chemicals,
there in old 25-litre Ecover bottles that get collected. I suppose
the silver gets taken out of it and used again. I hope you’re
not relating this to the washing up …
PE: It’s hard not too. Like I said, there’s a lot of sinks in photography.
Sometimes they even appear in it’s images. Actually I was thinking
more generally about connections and choices. I have a print of
John hill’s photograph of a sink in Walker Evan’s house taken
just after he died. You know, the one with his notes on the edge
of the bowl. I know it’s not a photograph that Evan’s could or
would have taken but it suggest’s to me things about his relationship
with the physical and photographed world at the same time.
I suppose he was building up towards making a picture of stuff
he knew, I think that’s closer to what I mean by the green thing –
choices based on connections that lead to choices, and so on.
NS: Er, well, I dunno … Photographers all photograph the same
thing anyway – trees, people, things they know. Personal things,
more stuff. Inspirational stuff.