Nigel Shafran


‘CC I was wondering about this with the Washing-up 2000 series because it is such a simple subject, almost too simple. I wondered if the series is an example of where it wasn’t a concept when you started but a close-by subject that developed into something

NS 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.

CC These are photographs of things that only you saw and inpart that means that these inanimate objects read like a diary of the events of your life – of what you eat, who you meet, what these places look like.

NS Sometimes I see old photographs and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there -the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things that we can relate to and hold that everydayness. I like it when something has been photographed in a simple way.

CC I’m very suspicious of the idea of ‘non-subjects’ in photography, I don’t think there are such things. As in the case ofWashing-up 2000, there are subjects that are not very obviously subjects until they are photographed, regardless of whether that was the intention of the photographer or not. There is a feeling that the significance of our lives is implanted in these subtle and everyday occurrences.’

Nigel Shafran and Charlotte Cotton interview  [2004 ]

nigel shafranFig 1. Washing-up (2000)

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

Was this question written by a man?  The question is implying that wash-up is a woman’s subject and therefore the viewer may be surprised to find that it is the work of a man.  That certainly isn’t my thought at all.  I’m wondering if the photographs are viewed in a different way because they are taken by a man?  I’m trying to think back to my first thoughts when initially viewing the above photograph and I was trying to find the artistic merit.  This didn’t come until viewing ‘washing-up’ as a complete project when I could see the shifting changes of time.  The tinsel, a subtle indication of christmas time.  I didn’t assign a gender to the subject of ‘washing up’ in my initial thoughts and I wasn’t surprised to learn it was the idea of a male photographer, I see it as genderless.

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

I’d like to think that gender isn’t a contributing factor as we are all capable of the same things whether they are physical or emotional, we are all capable.  However, society has assigned these roles to specific genders, women deal with emotions and men deal with physical aspects.  This notion can be further encouraged by the elements so far studied in this section of the course.  We’ve looked at Francesca Woodman, Elina Brotherus, Gillian Wearing, Trish Morrissey, Nikki S. Lee, Tracey Moffatt and I’ve written a feature on Dita Pepe.  All female photographers or artists who’s works are a response to feelings and emotions they’ve experienced with the exception of our opening autobiographical self portraiture feature of a former OCA student.  Keith Greenough’s self portrait shows three images of himself in the same pose, same background with different identifying clothing which as a series culminates into the fact he is an ironman.  This leads me onto a male stereotypical representation as in Greenough’s self portrait the only other male, Nigel Shafran has chosen to photograph ‘experiences’ i.e. washing-up, a physical representation of an experience.

I would say that women are more open and don’t have the emotional restrictions that most men seem to suffer.  More women photographers expose their inner most thoughts through their photography than men do but thats not to say it doesn’t happen.  Charles Latham created a series of photos that showed him harming himself and posted them online causing a string of heated debates.  This was in response to a relationship breakup which evoked such strong emotions to want to photograph the harm and expose himself to the world.  This resulted in a project ‘Cyrus’ in 2006, where Latham included an alter ego in his self portraits which represented his self loathing.

Fig 2. Cyrus (2006)

So in response to the original question, I don’t see how gender plays a specific role in catergorising photographers work.  As with all art it’s an expression of the individual and  not their given labels.

Gender can be used as an advantage in certain genres and in that case will contribute to the creation of an image but not always.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

When we view portraits we tend to judge the person based on how they look and the environment they are in.  By removing people from the washing up series were able to look more at the inanimate objects for clues on the narrative.  It gives us the ability to make some unbiased deductions about the person or people who are washing up.  For instance we’r not making assumptions on how old these people are but instead where looking at how they live, what do they eat and drink, what other clues are present to suggest an occasion or activity.  Without people present we are forced to look deeper and use our imaginations until we decide what the photograph is about.

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

I wouldn’t really think of the washing up series as still life compositions due to the nature of the activity.  Washing up piled up indicates life, someone used the dishes, someone put them there, someone washed up and they’re waiting to be put away.  The photo taking is bringing life to the mundane and telling a story about what happens in that space.  As a series the shifting changes of washing up, different day, different lighting, different crockery, gives the illusion of things moving, objects be put away and different ones used.  I don’t see anything still about the series at all.

Fig 1. Shafran,N. (2000) washing-up At (Accessed) 23/05/17.

Fig 2. Latham, C. (2006) Cyrus At (Accessed 24/5/17.)



Nikki S. Lee

Nikki S. Lee’s ‘Projects’ (2011) saw her transform herself into members of different social and ethnic groups where she explores the way photographs represent our relationships with other people.

Fig 1. Hip hop, Hispanic and Seniors, (1998, 1999 & 2001)

In the above images from Lee’s projects you can see that she the extent of the transformations and her ability to infiltrate different ethnic groups and seamlessly fit in. What’s interesting is how she’s chosen to use snapshots, even including the date on the photographs to backup the validity of the ‘snapshot’ theme.  Also it’s important to note that Lee doesn’t physically take the photograph herself, this is done by a member of the group who doesn’t have any photographic experience.

Lee herself has never claimed to be a photographer but explains that she uses photographs as her medium for her projects.

‘Just because I use the photographic medium, that does not mean I am a photographer.  I am not talking about a hierarchy between photography and art.  I can be a photographer or an artist, whatever really.  I use photography now but that does not mean I will forever…….’
Nikki S. Lee
(Bright, S. 2010:41)

Is there a sense in which Lee’s work could be considered voyeuristic or even exploitive?

The words voyeuristic and exploitive are quite severe words to describe the possible effects of Lee’s projects.  In terms of voyeurism, who knows for sure but Lee? However, the passion stems from somewhere and her desire to carry out these projects, in particular the lesbian project, has a voyeuristic air to it.  She is seeing herself pose as a separate person in situations that she has had the idea to put herself into, I’d say that can be deemed as voyeuristic.

Exploitive?  It could be viewed that way.  Lee is definitely exposing certain social and ethnic groups giving an insight into their inner workings.  I don’t get the impression she is carrying out the projects to exploit them though.  Lee’s reason for carrying out the projects was to determine our perception of the person in the photograph dependant on who she was with and how she was acting.  It was planned and executed very well so the input from others would have been voluntary.  She may have highlighted certain groups but not expelled them, there was no derogatory motive.

Is she commenting on her own identity, the group identity of the people she photographs, or both?

Lee isn’t commenting on her own identity although she is commenting on the identity of the person she is portraying.

‘The pictures are not about me – they are just stories’ – Nikki s. Lee (Bright, S 2010:41)

In order to do this she has to be commenting on the group identity also as its an integral part of her character placement.  The two together are what makes the project successful.

Trish Morrissey

The series Front (2005-2007), deals with the notion of borders, boundaries and the edge, using the family group and the beach setting as metaphors.   Morrissey assumes the role of the mother in other families photos.  This was to explore how vernacular family photography shapes the way ‘family’ is imagined and how groups of young people relate to one another.

Fig 2. Front (2005)

Morrissey wore the clothes of the person she’s replacing for authenticity.  She was able to enlist the help of family and friends but wasn’t shy of asking complete strangers to take part.  Once the series was underway Morrissey would have built up the confidence to approach strangers.

Would you agree to Morrissey’s request if you were enjoying a day at the beach with your family?  If not, why not?

Personally, I would happily oblige un the name of art but psychologically, I wouldn’t be comfortable seeing another woman take my place in the family.  I can imagine some people being against taking part for many reasons, for instance, they may just want to relax and enjoy their day out.  They may be introverted and too shy to be photographed which would be in contrast to what Morrissey was trying to achieve.

Morrissey uses self portraiture in more of her work, namely Seven and The Failed Realist, comment on these.

This statement was taken from Trish Morrissey’s website in regards to ‘Seven Years’.

Seven Years (2001-2004) aims to deconstruct the trope of family photography by meticulously mimicking it. In the series, the title of which refers to the age gap between the artist and her elder sister, Morrissey functions as director, author and actor, staging herself and her sibling in tightly controlled, fictional mis en scene based on the conventions of family snapshots.’
Trish Morrissey


Fig 3. January 25th, 1979, (2001-2004)

‘The Realist (This photograph is a particular favourite of mine.  It made me laugh out loud when I first saw it as it reminds me of the photographs I took of my brothers during that era.  The composition is what makes this photograph brilliant.  It mimics the general disregard for a pleasing composition in family portraits and makes this one more believable.  Big brother is looking to the right but we know it’s mum as her knees are are just within the frame.  We know it’s mum because she’s wearing a skirt.  Even though this is two women disguised as young men the level of deceit is admirable.  Both ‘boys’ have their legs apart and their general demenure exudes young male domination of sofa space right down to the slouched position of the younger male.

The one single action that gives the game away is the feminine way in which the boy on the right has his hand placed on his hip.  Its not the position of it, it’s a very dainty hand for male.

The whole series is thought provoking and takes the viewer on their own journey back through childhood.  It’s especially interesting to see the expressions we used as teenagers transported onto an adult face.  In the above photograph one brother is looking directly at the camera but is way too cool to raise a smile.  Very funny stuff.

The Failed Realist (2011) ‘………….This photographic series was made in collaboration with my daughter when she was between the ages of four and five years. Face painting is a rainy day activity that we both enjoy.  Once her motor skills evolved sufficiently well for her to control a paintbrush, she wanted to paint me rather than be painted.  Instead of the usual motifs of butterfly, or flower, she would decide to paint something from her immediate experience – a movie she had just watched, a social event, a right of passage, or a vivid dream.  Beyond the innocence of the child’s intention, more sinister themes such as clowns, carnival and the grotesque are evoked by these mask like paintings.’
Trish Morrissey

Party-GirlFig 4. Party Girl (2011)

I’m uncertain about what Trish is trying to say in this series as it seems to be an outlet for her daughter and not herself.  Unless the need to photograph the face paintings and give them titles constitutes a series about herself?  The best thing about this series is the names given to each painting.  It gives us an insight to what the painter was thinking at the time and how a young child’s brain develops in ways we don’t always understand or interpret correctly.


Fig 1. Lee, N.S. Projects (1998, 1999 & 2001).  At (Accessed 18/05/17)

Fig 2. Morrissey, T. (2005) Front.  At (Accessed 18/05/17)

Fig 3. Morrissey, T. (2001-2004) January 25th, 1979. At Accessed (18/05/17)

Fig 4. Morrissey, T. (2011) Party Girl. At Accessed (18/05/17)


Bright, S. (2010) Art Photography Now. London: Thames and Hudson

Bright, S. (2011) Auto Focus. London: Thames and Hudson



Autobiographical self portraiture

We’re all familiar with selfies in this day and age but what do they actually tell you about the real person inside?  Very little as selfies are generally an airbrushed, rose tinted version of us.

Autobiographical self portraiture is a much deeper visceral representation of who we are and how we think.

I initially looked a the work of Francesca Woodman (1958-81), Elina Brotherus and Gillian Wearing, Gillian of which I have come across in a previous module and am familiar with her work.

When I first researched Gillian Wearing‘s work, in particular her project entitled ‘Album’ I found it quite disturbing.  Gillian made and wore prosthetic masks of members of her close family and photographed herself wearing them.  She would wear the accompanying wigs, make up and clothes for full reproduction.  The masks were so convincing it made me feel like she was wearing other peoples faces, which she was, but in a sinister sense.  The aim for Gillian though was to portray a moment in time for each family member where the pressures of life weren’t written on their faces.  Gillian had forgotten the real images in the photographs and replaced them with the older more warn versions of her family.  So the project was about the concepts of memory and reality.

Gillian as her father Brian

It’s not always obvious on first glance that every photograph is one person wearing masks and costumes to look identical to other family members.  They also appear to have been taken at different times in her families history by using specific fashion and the appropriate use of black and white dating her father before the 1970’s.  On second glance its obvious the eyes aren’t quite right and I liken the images to that of a horror film.

Why masks?  Is Gillian masking her own identity for some reason? Is Gillian trying to find our what it feels like to be a different member of her family?  Or even at a different moment in time?  The need and drive to masquerade as her family must come from some deep psychological place within her.

In Auto Focus by Susan Bright, this was written about Gillian’s work on the ‘Album’ project ‘The mask acted as a disguise but also as a metaphorical device that helped her to examine her family through photography.’ (Bright, 2010:155)

Elina Brotherus is another contemporary photographer who uses photography as an explorative tool.  In her photo series ‘Annunciation’ Brotherus documented her IVF struggle using photography a her medium.  The series gave an emotional insight into her many failed IVF attempts with lots of clues along the way of what it was like to fit IVF into her life.  Being naked in most of the self portraits, Brotherus exposed herself to the world both literally and metaphorically in what was a very personal and bitterly disappointing journey.  I wonder what was the significance of the silhouette poster in ‘Annunciation 14, 2012’?  Was this a current day representation of the angel Gabriel?  Was it intentional to have her back to the dark figure?

Francesca Woodman, an American photographer, used self portraiture as a way of expressing her thoughts and feelings.  It was common practice to obscure her face and blur her body which represented the state of her mind at that time.

All three artists concentrated on themselves as an outlet for what they wanted to portray.  It’s in stark contrast to myself who works exclusively behind the camera as I cannot tolerate any kind of attention.  I don’t think it’s narcissistic to want to photograph yourself in fact I think it’s the complete opposite.  It’s incredibly altruistic and brave to expose your innermost thoughts through photography.  Once a photo is produced it’s an eternal record so theres no turning back, it’s very final.  Most people can relate to some of the issues raised in these projects and it’s incredibly selfless to allow those people to have an insight into something thats so intimately personal especially in Elina Brotherus’ Annunciation.

Bright, S. (2010) Auto Focus. London: Thames and Hudson

Bright, S. (2005) Art Photography Now.  London: Thames and Hudson