Artist Interview: Nigel Shafran (Photographer)
Above: spread from "Ruthbook" (Self published, 1995) / Below: spread from "The Well" (Loose Joints, 2022)
*Click here to read in English
─ First, the new book 『The Well』< Tell us about t5> About 30 years have passed since he started working in the field of fashion photography. Please tell us how you decided to publish this book and why you decided to publish a book that summarizes commercial work at this time.
I started shooting commercials 30 years ago, maybe 35 years ago. The idea for The Well came from the suggestion of the book's designer, Linda van Dursen. She's more than just a book designer, she really pushed me to make this book. This is because, until now, I thought that the photos I took as a job and personal work were different things in a sense, so when I first heard about it, I said, ``I will never let you do that while my eyes are black! (laughs) But now that I've made this book, I can think of everything as connected. I think that what is recorded in this book is not only so-called fashion photos. As for my later work, it's more recent commercial fashion photography, but most of my early work was done as a reaction to fashion photography, like the one I used to work as an assistant for, and what I was doing when I was younger. Thing Even if it's a snapshot of people walking on the street, or a work that can be connected to fashion photography or various styles, it doesn't necessarily mean that you're photographing fashion models or people like that. So those two pictures are somehow connected.
─ Just like you just said, this book is not just a collection of your achievements in the commercial field, but the intention is to connect your fashion photography with photography as an artist. can be seen from various points of view For example, this book was not published by a major publisher that produces retrospective catalogs, but by an independent London publisher "Loose Joints" that produces more artistic art books. The photo used as the book's main visual at this time (before publication) was taken in the same composition as one of your best-known photographs of your wife, Ruth, sitting on a chair in the kitchen. The intention can be seen from the fact that it is a It's interesting that you only recently became aware of that connection.
Perhaps one is a reaction against the other Or maybe they complement each other Unless we are born millionaires, we have to earn a living. And it always weighs on us as a big problem Some photographers make a living by teaching photography or, if they're lucky, selling prints. Other photographers, on the other hand, are making a living while making a living from a completely different job. I think working in the commercial field is more acceptable now than it used to be. However, because I am deeply involved in it, there are always industrial issues, if not problems, such as how women are portrayed as part of overconsumption. I am
─ Is that why your fashion photos are not over-produced? In other words, I think it's possible to separate it from the personal work and produce something that looks like a fashion photo, but it doesn't really appear on the surface, and it's unified with the same texture as the personal work.
Some of the recent photos are more planned, but I hope they don't look overly staged anyway. In the recent fashion photography shoots, I have many ideas and drawings in my head, and sometimes I reproduce them. And more recently, I've also come to think that if I'm lucky enough to have a large audience as a photographer, I might be able to incorporate my thoughts on different subjects into my work. I wouldn't go so far as to say it's political, but if it's a very, very small thing, it can be political. Also, I try to photograph fashion models and subjects in a way that is neither physical nor overly sexual.
─I understand rice field In 1995, you self-published your own collection of works , "Ruthbook" , and you began to devote yourself more seriously to your writing activities. However, I think that such a personal gaze on your familiar environment and surroundings has already appeared in previous projects as well. I could have put together other projects into a book much earlier, but what made you decide to publish this highly personal work as the first book?
Probably because it was the most emotional piece of my work at the time, and because I thought you only live once. It may have some kind of therapeutic meaning. I think the most important photos in my life are family snapshots. In a way, I consider myself to be a very good professional family photographer. I am very happy to be Or a snapshot photographer with a large format camera - that's a nice phrase, I like it [laughs]. I think I've said it before, but what's important to me is what's in front of me, and to see it as clearly as possible. it's not always easy
─ Do you think there was any critical significance at the time to presenting such personal photographs as a work, and to being personal in and of itself?
I don't know because that's what i do I often tell my students, "Just give it a try." Take a picture from time to time and not edit it, use it or publish it nothing will come out if you don't do anything I think it's very simple Sometimes I spend my time thinking about things, sometimes I work, sometimes I do my daily work Sometimes I look at various works, sometimes I look at paintings by old masters, sometimes I face receipts and do calculations. so i don't know how to answer Maybe it worked then, maybe it didn't. I don't want to consolidate my image by talking too much about my work. I'd rather say...there are other people whose job it is to talk about the work Curators are people who can discern what is interesting now, and they select what is interesting after looking over the past and present. But I think I like the idea of leaving people free to let their work influence them. Along with the many photographs that have flooded the world in recent years, I like my work as it exists.
─From “Ruthbook” onwards, you have continued to work with books as an important form of your work. While there are presentation forms such as exhibitions, what is it about the book format that attracts you so much?
I think photobooks are the most effective way to show photos. You can control how the work looks through sequencing and editing. It doesn't require electricity like a laptop computer and can be seen at an affordable price. Besides, you are free to watch it anytime. So there's no need to go out of your way to hold an exhibition. Once the exhibition is over, you can no longer see it. Besides, it takes a lot of energy to hold an exhibition, and when it's over, it's gone. The difference appears when you look at a photo in a book and when you look at it on a screen. Of course, the computer screen is also a place to look at my work, but it's not my favorite place to look at my photos. Photobooks are three-dimensional objects that you actually hold, own, like or dislike. It also seems to have a slower flow of time. I feel like I can stay more focused with a book than with a screen, and I don't think I've ever seen a picture on a screen for too long. I don't know why, and it might be a little different, but I think it's probably because we've all gotten used to using machines so quickly. Besides, I'm a bit of a control maniac With a photo book, you can control everything from materials to printing and sequencing, and they are all equally very important in the production of your work.
─Is that also why you prefer self-publishing?
Yes But when I do it myself, I always end up failing (laughs). That said, I've self-published so far...
─(shows Mr. Shafran's self-published book on screen)
Where did you get that book?
─“Ruthbook”? I bought it on ebay before
The book was originally £7.50 I remember riding a bicycle and going around bookstores. spent all his fortune on good paper And on the cover... Oh! look at the text in the title
─ Cover titles are written by yourself
Yes, I wrote the titles all over with one pencil I think I still have that 4B pencil somewhere in this darkroom. The title is for some reason the one word 'Ruthbook' I don't know why you put it in one word I can still write exactly like that I remember that I was particular about writing each character "Book" is a combination of a big zero and a small zero...why? There may be something like a reaction to other works I was seeing at the time I don't know what I'm doing half the time 90% don't know what they're doing
─ and you'll find out later
probably There is no master plan in production
Spread from "Ruthbook" (Self published , 1995)
─Please tell us a little more about the sequence. You've described sequences in past interviews as being like "waves of emotion." How did you become aware of the effect of arranging photographs? Was it cultivated in the process of composing your photos for the magazine?
I try not to think about it too much. Rather than making decisions based on my thoughts, I'm much more suited to making decisions while looking at a sequence I've put together. That's why I decide not by thinking about it, but by placing the photos in motion and making decisions. Some of my acquaintances like to do it while watching TV (laughs). I also showed the dummy books I made to friends and people I respected, and saw from their reaction whether the sequence was working well. If they gave me the same reaction I had when I saw the sequence, I knew it was probably working. I think I'm probably asking people -- I don't know if that's the right word for reaction -- to have the kind of emotional reaction that I had. I hope that what I feel can be conveyed well to others. There may be a big gap, a big change, or something else, but I'm not sure Again, this is what I've been doing for a long time When you edit a new piece, you either feel it works or you don't. I don't want to think like a robot when it comes to production, based on rules. Some people are savvy and knowledgeable about photography, but I don't want my work to feel clever. I have no interest in being smart at all, and if I think something is going too well, I will intentionally change it to the opposite weird way. I don't really know what that means, but I want people who see my work to react in some way. And if the reaction is the same as mine, then it worked for me.
─In other words, photography is not only a means of communication with the subject, but also a means of communication with the viewer.
Maybe so that's my way of communicating
─From a sequence perspective, I find Dark Rooms particularly interesting
Whether the book is a bestseller or not, I like it too. Did you know that the cover of the book was originally going to look like this? (taking off the dust cover) It's the stairway to heaven I wrote this drawing here This painting is a reference to the poster for the 1946 film A Matter of Life and Death. I am very proud to have made this book
─ I feel there are some positive elements at the end of this book. I think these feelings are greatly influenced by the two sequences you bring in in this book. One is the individual photo sequence for each project, and the other is the symphonic sequence given to the five projects themselves.
Everything moves forward in this book Food and escalators, it symbolizes us humans and modern society, food literally becomes a part of us And it's the store you don't want to go to the most, a nursing care store that has everything you need when you're nearing the end of your life. The last picture of the canister is the end of the package - it's like a very dark final checkout. A structure similar to this book was also attempted in "Edited Photographs" published in 2004. In this book, there is a feeling that all the pictures are connected from the beginning to the end. In Dark Rooms, you're right, but in order not to be too photographic 'narrative', we put photos of our lives and the farewells in life at key points. I wanted to put our family in there.
Spreads from "Dark Rooms" (MACK, 2016)
─How much should I make for each work? will you take your time Some of them, such as the series of escalators recorded in "Dark Rooms," seem to have ended after just a few shots.
That escalator series is an exception to the fact that I was completely absorbed in filming with a tremendous amount of enthusiasm. One time I borrowed a digital camera from photographer Tyrone Lebon. I was a total novice when it came to digital cameras, but my film camera was a little too slow to capture that scene. At that time, I happened to come across that escalator scene and thought it was a wonderful place. First of all, there aren't many places in London that don't have ads in the background like that place. Also, there are not many places that are illuminated by natural light even in similar places. And the third is the background of the squares like graph paper It evokes the work of Eadweard Muybridge And fourth, there was a spot in between that was just right for shooting. And fifth...
─ It looks like there will be more! (Laughs)
It was the perfect studio for me. Modernity, modern man clothes, and modern fashion pass one after another through the perfect studio. That's why the energy of "I have to do this now" came up strongly. So over the course of a week or two, I tried out various things and took a lot of shots. and i didn't do it Of course, there are some works that take more time. For example, the washing series I made in 2000 took a whole year. Sometimes I get more motivated even after spending time, and sometimes my interest fades.
Spread from "Dark Rooms" (MACK, 2016)
─ I see In 2018, you held a solo exhibition in which your sketchbook was part of it. Do you still make notebooks?
Yes, I still make a lot And I call that notebook a "workbook" Especially when I use a digital camera - it's so easy and wonderful - I don't know what to do at first, so I print out the photo on A4 size first, and then print it smaller like this. Paste those pictures in a workbook or put them in a box file. The pictures I take with my digital camera are even more varied, like something I saw on the street, or my son eating a sandwich - I don't take pictures of myself eating a sandwich. Even when I'm doing my son's homework for him, I still take pictures. Then I paste those pictures in my notebook as a memory. for my own memories i don't know what to do with it Maybe we'll find a reason to do something, or put it somewhere we can't even imagine right now. I don't even know why I take pictures at this point.
─By looking at this notebook, you can clearly see the connection between the sharpness of your eyes on everyday things and the projects born from those fragments. understand
I have been a commercial photographer for many years. And I've seen a lot of excess, extravagant and expensive things in that industry. I myself am not sure how much I am really impressed by them I like to buy boots, and when I wear out my old boots and really need new ones, I feel very happy. It's exactly like "Yes!" (laughs) But one leg is enough If you buy three extra pairs, the happiness will be halved. In a way it loses its value. I don't want to talk too much about my daily life because I've said it more than 1000 times, but I want to be conscious of what's in front of me, and not what I don't have, but what I have now. I believe that things are important The world and advertising are pushing us to have things we don't have yet, but I'm happy with what I have... In other words, what is it? I don't know for sure, but I want to feel at peace with what I have. I don't know if the word calm is correct I try not to be too verbal There is something of a tension between commercial work and personal work, one complementing the other or complementing each other. It's not all bad, and I probably wouldn't be able to get by without one or the other.
─ What is the interesting thing about commercial work with such a connection that is different from personal work?
I feel very fortunate to be able to shoot for American Vogue. Many people see my work there. I feel very lucky to have been given a stage to share my work in that way. I don't let media edit the work I want to use or the photos I choose. So, I hope that what is printed on the paper reflects exactly what I was originally trying to draw. The photos presented there are also not overly sexual images that are covered in stereotypes. And hopefully, the women in the film look interesting and have character. Of course they are not objects. But at the same time, it's important to remember that commercial photography is for selling crap. Culturally, fashion photography is interesting For example, Erwin Blumenfeld and Irving Penn are great photographers, and there is no doubt that their photographs are interesting images of their time. Their names just popped into my head right now, there are many other great photographers out there, but I'm not sure if it's fair to just call them "fashion photographers". They also create personal works other than work, so I guess they needed to know what they were interested in, just like me. Even if you really want to be a writer, you have to make a living at the same time, so it's hard to say. Or…what was the original question by the way?
─ What do you find interesting about fashion photography?
Ah! I got off topic It's true that fashion photography is completely different from personal work, and it's something you don't usually do. That's probably why I didn't want to do fashion photography in the same style as my personal work. However, as I said at the beginning, I think that there are things that are related to elements such as composition and lighting now. I feel that lighting, in particular, is an important part of most of my work. How the subject is lit sometimes speaks for itself If it's not a commercial magazine, I don't shoot Ruth suddenly dressed as a snail, or dressed as a gas station. As long as it's not rude or disrespectful, it's fun.
Above: spread from "Dark Rooms" (MACK, 2016) / Below: spread from "The Well" (Loose Joints, 2022)
Although I may have already said , I often don't know what I'm saying But I really like the feeling I come up with a certain drawing, draw it, and suddenly stop at a certain point For example, let's draw a picture of a woman holding 20 bags of potato chips. And in fact the photo must be accurate to the image Can you see the picture of this cash register? Meanwhile, in this photo, fashion model Bella has a bag of potato chips on her head. As for this photo, personal work and fashion photography may have been connected in an unexpected way. As usual, I don't know if I was aware of it or if it's connected. I don't want to think too much Again, I think thinking too deeply and being too cautious can nip ideas in the bud. That's why I prefer to just write down an idea and do it right away. I've never seen such an image, so I want to try it.
This is just a quick idea, but I think I like to let myself go with the flow of ideas like that. and i don't want to stop the flow Sometimes something comes out of your head and you think about it and analyze it. Try out your ideas in a commercial fashion photography job Isn't that a lot more thoughtful than just sitting still? Ideas come to mind, and when you put them into practice, there are times when things go well and times when things don't work out. But for other personal works, I don't direct them like commercial photos, nor have I ever done so. I look back at the pictures as if I were doing accounting work Oh, here's the history of my life, a little little history that I might throw in the pile of receipts with me Where I've been, what I've eaten, who I've been with, and what I've bought I like that aspect of my personal work … and I ended up exaggerating again (laughs)
(Interviewed on 20 April, 2022 by Yukihito Kono)
Nigel Shafran/Nigel Shafran
Born in England in 1964 Since the late 1980s, he has been active in fashion and culture magazines such as "i-D", "THE FACE", and "Dazed & Confused" in London with Jurgen Teller, Corinne Day, David Sims, etc., as a next-generation photographer. to attract attention Self-published in 1995, Ruthbook is not only the catalyst for a full-fledged start to his career as a photographer, but also a masterpiece that deals with the relationship with his partner. deeply carved the name His keen eye for things that we might overlook in our daily lives and his playful photographs have won him many fans both as a photographer and as a fashion photographer.
Nigel Shafran: Books 1995 - 2022
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