CAN 3 Exercise 3.1

Did it surprise you that Nigel Shafran’s Washing-up was taken by a man? 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?

It didn’t surprise me that Shafran’s Washing-up series was made by a man, because I think of washing up as something that men do more often than women. Both my father when I was a child and my partner in my 25-year relationship did most of the washing-up, although I don’t remember men doing much washing-up during the 10 to 15 years I spent in various shared and communal households. Come to that, I don’t remember anybody doing a lot of washing-up in those days.

Neither am I surprised that a man chose to make washing-up a subject for a photographic study – and in fact these images do look more male than female to me, inasmuchas I sense a male presence in the messy and sometimes precarious stacking of items, the leaving everything to air dry instead of drying up and putting away, as well as the inconsistent framing and viewpoint of the images. Am I right about this? Do women tend to wash up more neatly than men and put everything away afterwards? Or is this a blatant stereotype? And perhaps my assumption that Shafran did the washing-up himself before photographing it is wrong, too… maybe his wife did it and he just made the pictures. Somehow I just feel that this is not the case.

By not including people in the images, Shafran makes their ordinariness universal. As Charlotte Cotton puts it: there is “a feeling that the significance of our lives is implanted in these subtle and everyday occurrences” (Shafran and Cotton, 2004) . I have to confess, however, that I do not find them particularly engaging or at all aesthetically pleasing. Rather than “beautifully lit and composed”, as the course notes describe them, I find them (like the washing up itself) messy and in need of some tidying up to make framing, light levels and colour tones more uniform through the series. Clearly, though, these inconsistencies are intentional on the part of Shafran, and he’s not at all interested in creating charming pictures. “What’s interesting to me,” he says, “are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there – the soap packet, the bit of litter, […] I like it when something has been photographed in a simple way.” (Shafran and Cotton, 2004). So I’m perfectly willing to concede that my lack of enthusiasm for the images is a failure in my own appreciation and I will be interested to revisit them in a year’s time to see whether my opinions and preferences have changed in the interim.

References and resources

Shafran, N. (2000) Washing-up 2000. Available at http://nigelshafran.com/category/washing-up-2000-2000 [accessed 18.06.18]
Shafran, N. and Cotton, C. (2004) Nigel Shafran and Charlotte Cotton interview. Available at http://nigelshafran.com/interview-with-charlotte-cotton-edited-photographs [accessed 18.06.18]