main picture© Nigel Shafran 2022, courtesy of Loose Joints
In a fashion magazine, the “pit” is a special section reserved for the most creative editorials in the issue. It is a section of pages free from the influence of advertising brands and which, throughout the history of magazine making, has been the birthplace of some of the most revolutionary images in fashion. Well is also the name of a founding British photographer Nigel ShafranShafran’s new landmark book, which chronicles the image designer’s fashion work over four decades, from the early 1980s to 2021. For Shafran, whose down-to-earth style has always been decidedly anti-fashion, the he space offered by ‘good’ represents ripe ground for ‘unexpected creativity, subversive criticism and ironic commentary’, says the book’s publisher, Loose Joints.
Shafran started shooting for magazines like The face and identifier in the late 80s and early 90s – a time when a new wave of photographers were reacting against the decadent fashion images of the time, in search of something more real. Meanwhile, Corinne Day began photographing friends and future superstars like Kate Moss in ramshackle apartments in Soho, while Juergen Teller pushed the barrel with his spontaneous, sexually charged photographs.
Printed on 370 pages, Well presents an expansive study of Shafran’s soft, contemplative, and intensely human fashion photography. Appearing more like documentary imagery than anything else, Shafran’s work seeks the subtle beauty of everyday life, leaving behind the glamor of grand production sets for portraits in London flats, corner shops and residential streets everywhere from Golders Green to Detroit. Compiling images for magazines like Vogue, Pop, Faceand identifierthe book also features excerpts from personal conversations with industry icons such as Kathy Acker, Melanie Ward and Anna Cockburn, to name a few.
“It’s not a book of the best pictures, it’s more of a tight edit than that,” Shafran writes in Wellthe intro. “It’s a book about ideas that always end up somewhere in my work, I guess… Windows, shopping, making decisions and consuming.” These themes of the mundane and everyday have also been the subject of Shafran’s six previous books, including Book of Ruth (1995), dad’s office (1999), dark rooms (2016) and the highly influential Teenage Neighborhood Shoppers (2013).
In Well, we see Shafran’s naturalistic, dressy approach evolve throughout the 2000s and 2010s to become more tongue-in-cheek — in places poking fun at fashion, celebrities, and modern consumer culture. In a playful shoot for British vogue in 2014, Shafran captures models as shoppers in luxury stores, while elsewhere he imagines Courtney Love being chased by paparazzi for love magazineand in 2020, even dresses Bella Hadid as a gas pump for American vogue. “I grew up in the fashion world, it’s kind of like a family,” Shafran explains in the book. “I’ve always considered myself an outsider, but I’m probably more of an insider, really.”
Well by Nigel Shafran is published by Loose Joints, and is available now.