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Self-absented portraiture

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

That the image (see fig.1.) was taken by a man did not surprise me — in my mind the kitchen and household chores are not reflexly associated with women. But I can see why the question was asked – kitchen chores are stereotypically associated with women. In a way this fact might make the image all the more likely to be taken by a man in that the washing-up might be so routine to a woman as to become invisible as an object worthy of being photographed.

Looking at the other twelve images in Shafran’s ’Washing-up 2000’ series (Shafran, s.d) it becomes clearer that gender is not a factor. The ‘washing up’ is an object that falls into a category yet is found or comes in all shapes and sizes. It therefore is consistent with other visual collections evident in Shafran’s work, for example ‘bookshelves’ (Shafran, s.d b), ‘supermarket checkouts’ (Shafran, s.d c), ‘London tree photographs’ (Shafran, s.d d). The latter series shares the almost philatelic intensity of ’Washing-up 2000’.

In these collections of the mundane I’m reminded of Ed Ruska (b. 1937) and his books, for example ‘Twentysix Gasoline Stations’ (1962), ‘Every Building on the Sunset Strip’ (1966), ‘Thirtyfour Parking Lots’ (1967). However, unlike Ruska, Shafran’s work is in the category of still life, with ‘Washing-up’ described as a Vanitas i.e. a type of symbolic work of art especially associated with still life painting (Durden, 2014: 370). Shafran has said how:

Sometimes I see old photographs and what’s interesting to me are the things on the edges that are not meant to be there — the soap packet, the bit of litter, the things that we can relate to and hold, that everydayness (Durden, 2014: 370).

The work of these two artists Ruska and Shafran question’s the statement that:

Any photography that relates solely to the photographer’s internal life, without reference to the external world, is likely to lack depth, as is work that is merely bland record, containing little or nothing of the photographer (Badger, 2010: 172).


Badger, Gerry (2010) ‘Far from New York City: The Grapevine Work of Susan Lipper ’In: The Pleasure of Good Photographs. New York: Aperture. pp. 166 – 178

Durden, Paul (2014) Photography Today. New York: Phaidon

Shafran, Nigel (s.d) Washing-up 2000 [2000] At: http://www.nigelshafran.com/pages/washing_up_pages/001washing_up_pages.html (Accessed on: 29.01.15)

Shafran, Nigel (s.d b) Bookshelves At: http://www.nigelshafran.com/pages/book_pages/001book.html (Accessed on: 29.01.15)

Shafran, Nigel (s.d c) Supermarket checkouts At: http://www.nigelshafran.com/pages/supermarket_checkouts_pages/001supermarket_checkouts.html (Accessed on: 29.01.15)

Shafran, Nigel (s.d d) London tree photographs At: http://www.nigelshafran.com/pages/london_trees_pages/001london_trees.html (Accessed on: 29.01.15)

List of Illustrations

Figure 1. Shafran, Nigel (2000) 4th January 2000 At: http://www.nigelshafran.com/pages/washing_up_pages/001washing_up_pages.html (accessed on: 29.01.15)