Photography Today – Mark Durden
Nigel Shafran – The Everyday
The British photographer Nigel Shafran uses photography to closely observe his own life. His art elevates the everyday and humdrum. Washing –Up 2000 , for example, makes a Vanitas out of a domestic chore, providing a daily record of the differing arrangements of the dishes after they have been washed up and left on the drainer to dry, together with an itemising of what had been eaten during the meals. Shafran’s photography returns us to basic and simple use of the camera as an index of life, of what is close and personal. The camera becomes a means of slowing down our relationship to objects. There is little drama or sensation here. Shafran has said how, ‘Sometimes I see old photographs and what interests me are the things on the edge that are not meant to be there – the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things we can relate to and hold, that everydayness’. It reflects a certain type of life, a certain measure of affluence, domestic comfort and cultural tastes and values.
In his incessant portraiture, ‘Ruth on the phone’ [1996-2004], he photographs his partner, day after day, in the morning, at night, in bed, when she is pregnant and later, with her new baby. The constancy is her absorption in conversations on the phone and her loss of self- consciousness, in such acts of conversation. The intimacy of one couple is open to close exchanges with others, and the photographer is not fully possessive; his subject is distracted and elsewhere in this recurrent record. The camera registers her responsiveness to others on the phone, intimacies and expressions to which we sense the photographer is not part. He is certainly not determining the response to his subject, absorbed as she is in whoever she is chatting with on the phone. There is an element in this extensive portrayal of domestic life that recalls the fictional photographer Antonino in Italo Calvino’s 1955 story, The Adventures of a Photographer, with his ceaseless photography of his girlfriend that eventually drives her away from him. But Shafran is less possessive and controlling than Calvino’s fictional character. A close and otherwise closed and private world is valorized quietly and beautifully through a succession of photographs, which in the case of his prolonged portraiture of Ruth registers shifts in time, ageing, changes in the domestic situations and the birth of a child. While there work is distinctive, bell hooks’s eloquent account of the effect of Felix Gonzalez-Torres’s work is equally apposite for Shafran’s photography: ‘ there is always the insistence that elegance and ecstasy are to found in daily life, in our habits of being, in the way we regard one another and the world around us ‘