Nigel Shafran first came to fame in 1990 with a series of images published by i-D; showing teenage shoppers in a down-at-heel precinct in Ilford, it was the antithesis of a high-end fashion shoot. His first venture into publishing, Ruthbook, had a similarly pared-down approach; showing his girlfriend shot mostly at home, in her dressing gown, say, or blowing her nose, alongside details such as crumbs on a kitchen work surface, a pot on the stove, or a hair stuck on a bar of soap. Shafran hand-wrote the title, in pencil, on all 600 copies. Now he’s found a new twist on this everyday approach, putting his work books on show. Dating from 1984 right up to 2018 they’re a creative insight into his working process and life, and a typically understated collection – though it’s the inaugural exhibition at Sion and Moore, the gallery run by Claire de Rouen’s Lucy Moore in the space that used to house Wolfgang Tillmans’ studio.
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.
This “photographer’s photographer” is known for his measured understatement and his influential books, such as The Pond (1985) and Berlin in the Time of the Wall (2004). His latest, Looking Up Ben James – A Fable, will soon be published by Steidl, and he’s currently working on his next, The Last Days of Fontainebleau, shot in his hometown, Washington DC
“It’s getting near show time!” the voice would boom out over the cheers of the punters. Susan Meiselas would hover at first near the back of the tent. “Don’t be shy, take your hands out of your pockets, take your money out of your wallets. Rest your elbows on the stage and look up into the whole, the whole goddamn show. Show time! Where they strip to please, not to tease!” Susan Meiselas was 24 when she started Carnival Strippers. It was the summer of 1972, and her photography experience was limited to portraits of her housemates in Cambridge, Massachusetts. She had just completed an MA from Harvard, yet she still was shy and unsure of herself – very unlike the direct intellect of today, who treats Magnum’s offices like second homes.
As a young man in the late 1970s and 80s, Tom Wood regularly found himself among the crowds waiting for the ferry at Liverpool’s Pier Head. Commuters weary after a long day’s toil, elderly couples gazing out at the Mersey in comfortable silence, teenage girls sporting shell suits, hair swept into side ponytails. “There were always loads of people at the Pier Head because it’s a terminus for the whole of Merseyside,” Wood says. “Coming home I’d find I’d just missed a ferry. You’ve got at least 20 minutes to wait for the next one so what do you do? You take pictures.”
London-based publisher MACK Books is one of the world’s best-respected photobook makers. A leading producer of contemporary books, working with some of the most established artists in the field, MACK has also won acclaim for republishing hard-to-find classics such as Masahisa Fukase’s Ravens and Luigi Ghirri’s Kodachrome, and for supporting and promoting emerging artists, particularly through its prestigious First Book Award. In addition, MACK has published several books compiling writing on photography by artists such as Joan Fontcuberta, Allan Sekula and Victor Burgin. MACK was originally set up as steidlMACK in 2004 and was part of the Steidl publishing house, but its founder, Michael Mack, left the German company to go it alone in 2010. Now MACK’s work to date under both imprints is being showcased at the Centre for Contemporary Photography in Australia, in an exhibition presented by Perimeter Books which features over 200 books and special editions, including MACK’s pioneering experiments in digital publishing via MAPP Editions. In most cases, visitors are able to hold, handle and read these rare and sometimes out-of-print photobooks.
CJ Clarke and Poulomi Basu, photographers and co-founders of the Kolkata festival pick out their top five
The Walther Collection has kicked off an 18-month exploration of vernacular photography with a show titled The Shadow Archive: An Investigation into Vernacular Portrait Photography. Taken from the 1850s to the present day, the collected portraits depict groups such as ‘migrant laborers’, ‘inmates of an asylum’, ‘criminal photographs’, and ‘G&G Precision Works Photographic Identity Badges’, and, says the organisers, show how “identification photographs have been used to sort, shape, segregate, and select subjects based on occupation, social group, body type, or political affiliation”. The title references a phrase used by writer and photographer Allan Sekula to reference “the entire social field of human representations, comprising both heroes and deviants, within which every portrait takes its place as part of a moral hierarchy”.
“The first time my American agent came here, she said ‘I can’t believe you do all these pictures in this little room’,” laughs Paolo Roversi as he looks around the modest space he’s used as his studio for more than three decades. The Italian remains one of the world’s most sought-after fashion photographers, having forged his reputation during the mid-1980s shooting inspired catalogues for designers such as Comme des Garçons and Yohji Yamamoto, in an age when creatives were given unparalleled freedom of expression. Yet his studio is just a room in an unremarkable building in a nondescript arrondissement of southern Paris, furnished with battered chairs and old blankets. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“There was Hiroshima, Nagasaki and the American occupation but also the uprising of students and farmers against the seizure of land for Narita Airport. It all unleashed the desire of the young generation to say that they had enough,” says Manfred Heiting as he introduces The Japanese Photobook. In a century of vast changes, from traditions to technology, empire to war, the photobook became an institution in its own right in Japan, documenting the history of the country as it happened.