Nigel Shafran is a widely exhibited and collected photographer. His latest publication, Dark Rooms, follows on from his previous books exploring ordinary things, such as Compost Pictures (2008-09) and Ruth on the Phone (2012).
Dark Rooms is a series of photographs capturing details of everyday visuals that most of us barely register or remember afterwards. Shafran looks at supermarket tills with their garish leaflets and vacuum-packed vegetables, before glimpses of domesticity glide into view, with bills and receipts, work desks, Lego and trainers in the hallway. Everything is captured in muted colours in the pale London light. The eye almost rejects it all at first as if it is too mundane to see. After a while, something catches your eye – a phrase explored later in the book’s second essay – and a kind of intrigue creeps in. Perhaps you can learn something about the people described in the book from the visual clues? Or can you learn anything, really, from stuff?
Outside the home, Shafran photographs women on an escalator at a tube station, their identities and destinations suggested by the things they hold and carry. Escalators are the kind of in-between spaces where nothing happens, essential to modern cities but invisible. They represent endless movement, the inevitability of time.
The essay by David Chandler, ‘Partial Eclipse’, discusses Shafran’s work in the context of London and the artist’s home. Chandler sees the work as an act of collecting. Shafran gathers everyday material evidence from the immediate and historic past of both the city and his personal surroundings. He writes:
“..we are seeing human spaces already framed as informal archives, fragments of life histories in the process of being written.”
Once the reader learns that these photographs were taken during a period when Shafran lost both his parents, they are seen through a different filter again. In the second half of the book, the subject of time passing becomes inescapable, outlined in mobility aids and walking frames still in their plastic wrapping. Circling around the same theme are the images of the detritus destined for recycling, shown balancing on the edge of the kitchen sink. Shafran gives them a moment of attention which they would never usually receive. Outlined in muted colours and dim light, the disposable container casually discarded becomes a modern still life. They quietly describe death while the indestructible plastic goes on existing way beyond any human body.
The essay ‘She wrote the word on the house with her finger’ by Paul Elliman walks us through the dwellings of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf and Monica Ali among many others. He explores how writers describe the domestic sphere and how their characters are inside it and of it. Shafran’s photographs also suggest ways in which walls, furniture and our stuff become a part of us and about us. Sofas carry imprints of our bodies and clocks count down our time. His pictures suggest that these things in our lives – the disposable containers and walking frames – are more than just things. They become a language which describes life.
– reviewed for Photomonitor by Riikka Kuittinen
Dark Rooms by Nigel Shafran, with texts by David Chandler and Paul Elliman, co-edited by Liz Jobey, was published by, and is available from MACK www.mackbooks.co.uk