Exercise: Self-Absented Portraiture

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.

  • Did it surprise you that this was taken by a man? Why?
  • In your opinion does gender contribute to the creation of an image?
  • What does this series achieve by not including people?
  • Do you regard them as interesting ‘still life’ compositions?Make some notes in your learning log.

Copyright Nigel Shaffran

Nigel Shaffran, a trained comercial and fashion photographer has produced a range of work that explores aspects of his and his wife’s  personal life. There is something of the biographical in his work ‘Washing up’ but  also an element of exploring or finding meaning in the mundane. By using his camera to focus on one small aspect of his life he sets out to reveal something wider. At this stage i am still trying to read these images but i must say I was immediately struck by the technical quality of the work in terms of composition framing , balance and visual interest. i was left with a sneeze of some staging and arrangement because there is something visually satisfying about the work.


Copyright Nigel Shaffran

This approach isn’t new to Shaffran and he has developed this approach in other works such as Compost Pictures (2008-9) images of a small pot on the sink work surface where discarded vegetation is put prior i assume to bing dispatched to a compost heap. here are constants in the images, the pot, the sink and the wall. each image has new and different colourful waste matiear and ahgain out of the mundane there is something peculiarly engaging. An earlier work Suburban garaged 2001


Copyright Nigel Shaffran

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

It didn’t and to be frank the question suprised me more and seemed to be rooted in notions of gender stereotypes about the kitchen, washing up and traditional but outdated gender roles. I have been bright up in a culture where cooking and washing up are the work of the entire family and find the notion of this type of activity being linked to a specific genre, with alien and ancient. Whilst I acknowledge that gender and its attendant biographical experience will shape the photographers viewpoint, this seemed a clumsy question.

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

A photographers life experiences, their training and their artistic intentions all shape an artists outcome. Gender is clearly a dimension of experience and there will be a trace of that experience in an artists work. In my view it may be subtle in some instances and very apparent in other. This in my view will be a function of artistic internet, where the artists is them selves making a choice to make genre more explicit in the work. It will be far more about seeding an intent than the tyranny of historic gender roles and expectation.

What does this series achieve by not including people?

The absence of people is an artistic choice but also one that I think adds to these works. The sharp and clear focus on space, environment and the unmistakable traces of human activity and existence all point to people, without revealing them. It is a very different approach to the traditional portrait and I imagine this oblique and abstract approach makes theviewr ask questions an fill in the blanks about whose kitchen this is. Indeed by revisiting the same space and making a range of work i that space, the view is given information in increments, that it might be argued reveal more and more about an individual, but always keeping some aspects illusive. There is a constructed paradox that simultaneously reveals but keep opaque the hidden subject in then work. I have to say i was left intrigued by the work

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

When looking at the work of Shaffran I was most struck by the technical quality of the work. The very sharp and balanced composition of the work , the framing and the lines that run through the work. For example the line of the window from running with precision in parallel to the farm of the camera. Whether you like the images or not they stood out to me as the work of a skilled photographer. The light too, work well with excellent control of shadows and a real sense of natural light. I was reminded of section o Bergers (1977) Ways of Seeing, Chapter 5 that dealt wit oil paintings in the renaissance and in particular the use of painting to exhibit wealth and possessions. Berger refers to the vower seeing something about individuals lives but the owner being absent. Although quite different, given Shaffran has chosen a much more mundane subject than the oil painting Berger is referencing, I was struck by the parallels in the notion objects revealing more than merely their form and placement.


Shaffran, N Website, found at: nigel shaffran (Accessed November 2016)

Berger, J (1972) Ways of Seeing, Penguin, London


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