Interviewing Nigel Shafran is a circuitous, informal affair. Meeting him at his North London home, I immediately recognise Ruth, his partner and the subject of many of his photographs. I also meet his son Lev, who, though somewhat older, is also still easily discernible from his father’s pictures. The interview takes place in the kitchen familiar from Flowers for ____. Every now and then a friend calls round or phones, with plans made to throw a boomerang around in the park that afternoon, or play ping pong in the evening. Lev occasionally interjects from the living room with his take on the interview process, or on “nattering on about photography” as he puts it. “Sorry. Oh my God!” says Shafran, as the phone rings for the second time. “No worries,” I say. “You’re a busy man.” “A busy family man!” he replies. It doesn’t always make for an easy interview, but it feels appropriate for a photographer who focuses on the everyday, the domestic and the personal.
Marking the 800th anniversary of the Charter of the Forest signed by King Henry III, and corresponding with the launch of the 2017 Charter for Trees, Woods and People, the V&A’s new display Into The Woods: Trees in Photography, celebrates the significance of trees in the work of photographers across the world and throughout history.
The exhibition is comprised of works from the V&A’s permanent collection as well as photographs recently transferred from the Royal Photographic Society ahead of their rehousing in the museum’s new Photography Centre in 2018. Curated by Martin Barnes, senior curator of photographs at the V&A, Into The Woods began as an impulse – “I just like trees!” – but gradually revealed itself to be the germ of a great idea.
Born in 1983 in the United States, Lucas Foglia grew up on a small farm some 30 miles east of New York city. His family grew their own food and lived a life away from the bustle of shopping centres and the surrounding suburbs. “The forest that bordered the farm was my childhood wilderness,” he says. “It was a wild place to play that was ignored by our neighbours, who commuted to Manhattan.” But in 2012 Hurricane Sandy charged through his family’s fields, flooding the farm and blowing down the oldest trees in the woods. “On the news, scientists linked the storm to climate change caused by human activity,” Foglia recalls. “I realised that if humans are changing the weather then there is no place on earth unaltered by people. I looked through my archive and set aside some photographs that became the seeds for my third book.”