The tension between art and commerce in the work of Nigel Shafran

At school, Nigel Shafran’s first vocation was art. However, lacking the patience to complete his paintings, he found an alternative in the more immediate medium of photography. He doesn’t know how he fell into fashion photography specifically, or how he was introduced to pioneering youth magazines like Face early in his career. But it was there that he made a name for himself, making photo essays that championed candid everyday moments and brought to the fore many hallmarks of fashion imagery in the years that followed.

And yet, he never saw himself as a fashion photographer, as he reveals in his new book, The Well, whose name is taken from the term for the main image section of a magazine. The book, published by Loose Joints, pays particular attention to its relationship to commercial photography. It is designed to be a space for critique and reflection on the tension between this world and his personal work, aided by the anecdotes and remarks sprinkled throughout the book by himself and his peers, including Phyllis Posnick, who has spent 30 years as a fashion executive. editor-in-chief of Vogue, and Katie Grand, stylist and founder of Love magazine.

Top: Lost in Space, The Face, Seven Sisters Road, 1989; Above: Brent Cross Shopping Centre, 1993. All images © Nigel Shafran, 2022. Courtesy of Loose Joints
T-Shirty, London Underground, 1991

Shafran’s reflections on the commercial side of his practice have been more recent, but consumerism and commerce have been constant symbols in his work. Malls, supermarkets and the then thriving shopping streets were long his playground, and cashiers, models and shoppers his subjects.

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