Nigel Shafran navigates the turbulent world of fashion digital photography

Reading Time: four minutes

Shafran’s latest photobook, The particular Well, collates his work in fashion from the 1980s to now. Here, the Uk photographer reflects on a career spent straddling fine-art plus commercial photography

Nigel Shafran has always had an anxious relationship with fashion. Go to his website , and you will find different collections of photographs, hyperlinks to nine of their own publications, and countless more catalogues. Of these, few – if any – consist of images of his operate fashion.

In the 1980s plus 90s, Shafran was well-known as a fashion photographer, regularly contributing to independent magazines like The Face, i-D and Harpers & Queen . Moving into the 2000s, his work took on the different edge. He photographed simpler, contemplative settings: his girlfriend Ruth, their kitchen sink, charity shops, escalators, areas that you might pass by without a second thought. He found – and presented – the wonder in familiar scenarios.  

In various interviews, Shafran has described this latter element of his work as “an antidote” to his fashion picture taking, implying an uneasy partnership with the industry. “Fashion, ” he told The Guardian in 2010 “was not what I wanted to pursue, because of the method it depicts women, and the aspirational values it promotes”.  

Shafran began to think of his work as two separate entities, and focused nearly entirely on non-commercial tasks.   However , in the opening to his latest publication The Well – a collection of his fashion photography from the 1980s in order to now – Shafran takes the particular distinction back. “I believe that over time [my commercial and personal work have] come together, ” he writes. The collection of images, released by Loose Joints , reveals that there was a thread running through his work all together.  

Wrangler campaign, New York
City, 1992 © Nigel Shafran 2022 courtesy Loose Joints.

“This is my function, this is what I do.

It’s how I communicate”

Teenage Precinct Buyers, i-D, 1991. © Nigel Shafran 2022 courtesy Reduce Joints.

Talking over the phone, Shafran is reluctant to describe his work a lot of. “Fuck, that’s a bit clips, isn’t it? ” he says, after summarising the book as an attempt to showcase visibility. He pauses for a time and takes on a more serious tone. “This is the work, this is what I do. Dont really explain it. It’s how I communicate. ” 

The new collection includes a standout series, Teenage Precinct Shoppers , published within i-D in 1991. The series was described as “an empathetically anthropological portrait associated with British youth” by TIME’ s i9000 Phil Bickers. Bickers called the collection’s straightforwardness “radical”, in an era when “photographers favored to distort or decorate reality”.

The Nicely is the first publication that places Shafran’s fashion digital photography in its own context – away from the advertising connected with fashion magazines. It allows this to breathe, and because of the, the themes that he provides consistently addressed are more noticable.  

That’s the thing: despite his clear uneasiness along with fashion, his photography has long been a way to lead from the inside. In 1989, he shot Cecilia Chancellor for Harpers & Queen . She described the shoot as “refreshing”, because Shafran wanted to shoot “me as me”, and not as a changed version of herself. This particular thread runs through all of his work – whether or not he’s photographing still-life or models. Shafran offers realistic look, and that’s what’s lovely.  

Down Beat, The Independent, Golders
Green, 1993 © Nigel Shafran 2022 courtesy Loose Joints.

Speaking a week before the general public release of The Well , Shafran is cautious about critiquing the fashion industry. “Not to say that will I’m an innocent bystander. I’m a hypocrite to tell the truth, but you know, we make a living, ” he says.    

Despite his earlier statements, Shafran’s return to commercial digital photography is positive: “Now, [by returning to commercial photography] there are queries that I can address relating to fashion. ” In this sense, Shafran is able to continue to leader change from within. “I wish to set a good example and show the subjects I photograph in an optimistic light – not objectifying people, or bringing in too many stereotypes. ”

In the past couple of years, he has shot Bella and Gigi Hadid, Kate Moss, Cara Delevingne, Kate Upton and Courtney Love. Their images of models crack the fourth wall, often revealing the set and stage sets surrounding his models. Bella is smiling, laughing. Gigi is jumping through the air. Everything feels natural, such as the images are taken by a great friend.  

His work continues to show a path that fashion photography need to progress in: fundamentally humanist, and, in contrast to some of his still-life – which has melancholy tones – playful.  

Air Apparent, American Vogue, 2019. “The stylist had a large playground equipment,
but when Gigi jumped onto it she stayed up
in the air for far too long, and I acquired too
much time to take a picture. The trampoline
was as well professional. We bought a
less expensive one, and it made all of the difference,
her going, ‘boing, boing, boing’.
That’s the very first frame by the way. ” © Nigel Shafran 2022 politeness Loose Joints.

Just before interviewing Shafran, I’d prepared one key question: “Have all the good images long gone? ” Has the age of digital, and social media, meant that most images – angles, frames, ideas – have been taken? But now I realise that the question is a non-sequitur: of course they aren’t gone. In the same way that all of life’s moments can’t be gone. Every single moment is novel – idiosyncratic, alluring, unrepeatable – and it is these moments that Shafran is most captivated simply by.  

Shafran doesn’t take care of staged circumstances, which, like the forced fun of an organized tour, feel cramped and rigid. Shafran cares for that streaks of light that illuminate dusty rooms, the particular spontaneous smile that ascends from the belly and spiffs up the face, the unsung hero taken from the background and plonked in the spotlight. We’ve known for years that Shafran adores these types of moments. What The Nicely does is demonstrate that his interests haven’t changed. No matter if he’s taking pictures of shoppers on the roads of Ilford, his sweetheart Ruth, or millionaire versions for glossy magazines.  

Jacob Negus-Hill

Jacob Negus-Hill holds the positioning of Online Editor on Proper Mag and is the previous Senior Writer at Sabukaru Online. He studied Viewpoint at the University of Leeds and achieved an MSc in Environmental Policy in the University of Bristol. His words have appeared in The Face, The Basement, The British Journal of Photography, in addition to numerous other zines and online publications.

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