What happened to those other bits of furniture, ornaments, pieces of bric-a-brac that once transformed these unknown people’s homes?
Undoubtedly many of them ended up in charity shops or car boot sales, places that Nigel Shafran has also explored with his camera. The charity shop is a staple of the British small town, recycling the unwanted bits and pieces of our lives – representing that other economy that operates on the margins of the relentless cycle of mainstream production and consumption. If any apartment are uncanny then so too are there inverse, the charity shops packed full of these orphaned objects: corpse-like clothes, malevolent wardrobes, chest of drawers that have been emptied of there memories, discarded crockery and old shoes that have worn to the shape of there owners’ feet.
In the theatre behind the stage, lies the props table. On it lie all the dormant objects that will be used in the play. These objects have their own peculiar status: the responsibility of the props manager alone, they exist only in as much as they have a function in the dramatic narrative and will play a part in the production. They are, in this sense, hollow objects, sometimes even fake ones, stripped of any individual or social investment in them: just props whose meaning is yet to be realized. The very word ‘prop’ is an peculiar one: derived from the term ‘properties’ the word signifies the status of these objects as properties of the stage manager. But there is another sense in which we think of the word ‘prop’, a sense that also seems to infect these things – as objects that literally ‘prop’ you up, support you as an actor in your role, keep you altogether. In a society in which we are encouraged to purchase our identities on a daily basis through the consumption of more and more goods, Shafran’s charity shops and car boot sales can only be seen as evidence of so many failed life projects and performances: props that have failed the test in supporting our fragile social identities and which have necessarily had to be put back on the shelf, hollow objects that have left their function, objects with no meanings attached.
Shafran’s domestic photographs, taken amidst the more benign clutter of his own home, also test the autonomy of the object. In these photographs – photographs that situate themselves more firmly in an observational mode, based upon spaces that are known and loved – objects seem to compose themselves into gentle still-lives, assuming an independent life that the photographer happens upon by chance. He photographs the odd collections of things that accumulate in his Dad’s office, flowers on a table , the washed up dishes by kitchen sink. Yet these objects also share in the strangeness of the prop table, they are, after all the things that prop up the photographer’s life.
Joanna Lowry – An imaginary space [Theatres of the Real]