Exercise – Nigel Shafran’s “Washing Up”

Go to the artist’s website and look at the other images in Shafran’s series.

You may have noticed that Washing-up is the only piece of work in Part Three created by a man. It is also the only one with no human figures in it, although family members are referred to in the captions.

The series Washing Up consists almost entirely of photos taken of a sink area at different times of day more-or-less from the same viewpoint. We observe the constancy of certain things such as the yellow rubber gloves always hanging in the same place over the sink. We also see how other things change depending on exactly what is happening, what utensils were used, what plates and glasses were washed etc.

In an interview with Paul Elliman in 2000, (see here), Shafran said that with the series he “wanted to start the New Year with something optimistic. And personal. Something with lots of shapes, where shapes would change, keep changing. Also something in which the light was important, the kitchen window or the overhead kitchen light …”

In a 2004 interview with Charlotte Cotton (see here), Cotton asked whether the series was simply a close-by subject that developed over time. Shafran replied with “it’s a very close-by subject and a lot of my work and the subjects I choose are because of this. It’s what I know”.

Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?

No, not at all. I imagine that choice of subject says something about the photographer, but I doubt whether choice says anything at all about the photographer’s gender.

In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?

I think that gender can contribute to the choice of subject, but it depends on the individual. I can imagine that more men than women might photograph a classically male sport such as boxing, but there are always exceptions and I suspect they tell us more about personal orientation and interests than anything else.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

It forces us to focus on the details of the objects, the placement, the lighting and not to be distracted by whatever a person might do. We avoid the mental stories of the person and focus on the inanimate subjects.

Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?

In a subtle way, yes, but it’s more about comparing one image to another than any particular one standing out for me. Technically, I guess they count more as “objets trouvés” rather than classical still life, but they have an interest because I can relate to what has happened – it’s within my life experience in the past and in the present, so there’s an intimacy which is appealing.

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