Research notes – Nigel Shafran

I had a look at Nigel Shafran series Washing-Up (link) (1) in his website. The series has a typological feeling to it, and it remind me a bit of Bernd and Hilla Becher’s work (link), in as much as there is quite a lot of repetition involved, but also of some of the series done by Keith Arnatt that involved both repetition and a domestic setting (see for instance his Notes from Jolink to some images). It is a shame that in Shafran’s website the images do not have any captions (unlike the image shown in the course guide – which I believe is the same as this one found in his website – that has a very long caption describing, possibly, the food that was just consumed), which makes the whole series a bit less interesting and perhaps too monotonous. The nice thing about the caption in this case, particularly such a long caption as the one included in the course guide (it was: “4th January 2000. Three bean soup, cauliflower vegetable cheese. Morning coffee and croissants”) (2) is that it provides information that it would be impossible to ascertain from the image. Not because some of the plates and utensils are not fully visible, but because this information is actually about what happened before the picture was taken. It provides an additional context that enriches the visual experience and without it, we are left with what essentially is a group of images repeating almost the same things over an over again, at different times of the day, from slightly different angles and sometimes in completely different settings, but essentially a variation on the same theme.

Shafran has a lot of other series in the same vein, capturing some domestic or ordinary life experiences, but some are slightly more enthralling than others. I was particularly drawn to his series about supermarket checkouts (link) (3), because while it is also quite typological in nature, it does show more clearly the subjects (ie the items purchased) than in Washing-up and allows our mind to wander a bit more. I felt a personal connection with this series because I often play the game of guessing somebody’s personality by looking at what they are buying at the till. This is of course very stereotypical, but is something we do a lot in real life (judging by first impressions or falling for confirmation bias) and I found Shafran approach to be an interesting exploration of this topic. Once again, the lack of caption or statement by the artist draws back a little from the experience and I am left wondering if these were just the artist’s shopping of if he photographed other people’s shopping too.

The artist has also made a number of series about whom I assume is his partner. I particularly liked the series “Ruthbook” (link) (4). This includes images about the subject of the series (Ruth), but does also provide contextual images in which we are shown objects and spaces associated with the subject, such as the place where she sits and her trekking gear, or even a thread of her hair trapped in a bar of soap. At some point, there are quite a lot of images showing these objects only, in succession, and in here the series feels nostalgic, like when we revisit places where we had a good time or spent time with someone special. But without any contextual aid (again, no statement or captions) it is hard to conclude anything. The overall impression I have when looking at Shafran images is that they can come across as too personal or cryptic to be of interest to somebody stranger to him.


(1) Washing-up 2000 [2000] : Nigel Shafran. 2018. Washing-up 2000 [2000] : Nigel Shafran. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 February 2018].

(2) Boothroyd, S., 2017. Photography 1 Context and Narrative. 4th ed. Barnsley: Open College of the Arts. P. 86.

(3) Supermarket checkouts [2005] : Nigel Shafran. 2018. Supermarket checkouts [2005] : Nigel Shafran. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 February 2018].

(4) Ruthbook [1992-2004] : Nigel Shafran. 2018. Ruthbook [1992-2004] : Nigel Shafran. [ONLINE] Available at: [Accessed 03 February 2018].


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s