Exercise 3.4 – Part 3 / Project 3 Summary

I have made separate observations on Shafran’s images in a previous blog entry that can be found here (link). The following comments address specifically the issues touched upon by the course guide in respect to this exercise.

I had not noted the link between the types of images taken by Shafran and his gender until this was mentioned by the course guide. As I mentioned in my original comment, the images taken by Shafran for the Wahing-Up series (link) (1), and other series which I checked in his web-page, including Supermarket checkouts (link) (2), are almost typological in nature, essentially representing a collection of variations of a basic theme. It could be argued that Shafran is hoarding images about similar objects, something I have done in my practice, and various other male artists have done this as well (see for instance Ed Ruscha’s Every Building on Sunset Strip or his Twentysix Gas Stations) as well. There are scholar articles on psychology arguing that the hoarding of objects, as part of the obsessive disorders, seems to be more prevalent in males than on females (see for instance this article (3)). In that respect, and after due consideration, I am not very surprised to see that these images were taken by a male photographer. However, the point stands that I had not really noted this until it was mentioned in the course guide. I also remain unconvinced that there is a strong connection between differences in artistic treatment and gender. Anna Fox, a female photographer, has made a very interesting series based on repetitive photographs of inanimate cupboard items (My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Wordslink (4)). Putting aside the captions in Fox’s images (Shafran’s do not have captions, at least in his website), the images look thematically similar to those included in Washing-Up. 

In my opinion, the lack of people in works like Washing-Up, Supermarket checkouts and My Mother’s Cupboards and My Father’s Words contribute to a feeling of detachment and alienation. The effect varies from series to series, but I have always found it quicker to make an emotional connection when you have a person, or even an animal in a picture. Generally, this is through the emotions we attach to facial expressions or gestures, but in other cases the feelings can also come from the actions that such characters are executing when they were photographed. There is a facility of connection in this case because of commonality: if the action or circumstances portrayed are something we have done in the past, or if we relate to the subject by gender, ethnicity, cultural background or demeanour, there is an instant relationship between ourselves and the image and this helps to convey the photographer’s message.

An equally strong connection can still be created when photographs only (or predominantly) contain inanimate objects, but this is perhaps less directly related to the objects themselves and more to the experience of the viewer, and the chance that such experience matches the intention of the photographer. In the case of Shafran’s images, I could feel such connection in the Supermarket checkout images (5) because I associated such images to something I have experienced myself (playing the game of guessing people’s personality by looking at their shopping), but the Washing-Up images did not move me in the same way and in the end I considered them to be slightly boring. For me, that personal connection is what determines whether such images, or any other still life image, ends up being interesting or not.


(1) Washing-up 2000 [2000] : Nigel Shafran. 2018. Washing-up 2000 [2000] : Nigel Shafran. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nigelshafran.com/category/washing-up-2000-2000/. [Accessed 03 February 2018].

(2) Supermarket checkouts [2005] : Nigel Shafran. 2018. Supermarket checkouts [2005] : Nigel Shafran. [ONLINE] Available at: http://nigelshafran.com/category/supermarket-checkouts-2005/. [Accessed 03 February 2018].

(3) Mahajan, N.S.,Chopra, A., and Mahajan, R., 2014. Gender differences in clinical presentation of Obsessive Compulsive Disorder: A Hospital based study. Delhi Psychiatry Journal, Volume 17, Issue 2, 284-290.

(4) My Mother’s Cupboards : Anna Fox. 2018. My Mother’s Cupboards : Anna Fox. [ONLINE] Available at: http://www.annafox.co.uk/work/my-mothers-cupboards/. [Accessed 03 February 2018].

(5) People is sometimes included in some of the images in this series, but in most cases they are marginal / incidental, rather than being the main focus of them.


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