Exercise: Nigel Shafran – Washing-up (page 87)



Shafran has produced a self portrait series by photographing his kitchen sink and providing us with narrative to give the viewer an insight into his personal life mainly through describing food and domestic situations.

Nigel Shafran, Washing Up

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

Not really, no. I know that traditionally women have done the washing up but my personal family experience doesn’t follow the tradition so I don’t think of washing up as gendered particularly.

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

My first instinct is to say no to this question because we are all capable of taking the same images. However, on reflection I think that perhaps yes it does. We are all subject to the influences of nature and nurture and as such, whether it is right or wrong, boys and girls are likely brought up with differing approaches to life and have different life experiences from being small. I would expect life experience to affect a person’s life view and influence his/her interests, which will ultimately affect the subjects they are interested in portraying through photography.

When looking at the work of Elina Brotherus and her series documenting her experience of IVF and childlessness, I expected the photographer to be a woman. I don’t think I have ever seen or read about a man discussing this subject though he is usually just as involved as her. But, everyone is individual and to say an image will be created differently depending on gender is nonsense. I will concede to gender contributing to the creation of an image though.

What does the series achieve by not including people?

The fact that there are no people forces you to focus on the objects in the scene. Normally if there was a person then your eyes are drawn to him/her first. Without a person there is no distraction away from the objects and the viewer has to piece the items together in some way to form an insight into the absent person’s character. It is like a puzzle to be solved.

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

The Tate has this to say about ‘still life’

‘the subject matter of a still life painting or sculpture is anything that does not move or is dead’ and goes on to add that it, ‘includes all kinds of man-made or natural objects, cut flowers, fruit, vegetables, fish, game, wine and so on’ (Tate, 2018).

So, regarding Shafran and his series ‘washing up’ the first definition applies to the inanimate subjects seen in and around the kitchen sink in that they don’t move. However, the actual items are not exactly fruit, flowers or wine, rather kettles, taps and plates. The inclusion of food and drink in the still life genre was an acknowledgement of the pleasures of life and the impermanence of those pleasures, which doesn’t really translate to the draining board.

A couple of years ago I did a lot of research into Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group and visited the Stanley and Audrey Burton Gallery at the University of Leeds to see Vanessa Bell’s still life oil painting ‘Triple Alliance’. The painting shows three domestic objects; a lamp, two glass bottles and a cheque. You can see it here on the left:

Bell’s image is not in keeping with the traditional subject matter of still life; there are no flowers and no fruit but it is certainly embraced within the still life genre and alludes to relationships and alliances.* Similarly, there is no traditional arrangement of fruit and flowers in Shafran’s photographs but they show interesting still life compositions that say a lot about the photographer’s lifestyle, family life and the passing of time.



Nigelshafran.com. (2018). Washing-up 2000 [2000] : Nigel Shafran. [online] Available at: http://nigelshafran.com/category/washing-up-2000-2000/ [Accessed 18 Mar. 2018].

Tate. (2018). Still life – Art Term | Tate. [online] Available at: http://www.tate.org.uk/art/art-terms/s/still-life [Accessed 9 Jan. 2018].

*some say Bell’s work alludes to the threesome of the relationship between Vanessa, Duncan and Bunny, or to the alliance of Germany, Austria and Italy in the First World War.


Leave a Reply

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

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com 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