The tension between art and commerce in Nigel Shafran’s work

After bringing a down-to-earth ethos to fashion imagery in the 80s and 90s, the photographer withdrew from the arena in which he had made his name. Now, a new book sees Shafran reflect on the relationship between his commercial and personal work

At school, Nigel Shafran’s first calling was art. However, lacking the patience to complete his paintings, he found an alternative in the more immediate medium of photography. He isn’t sure how he fell into fashion photography specifically though, nor how he was introduced to pioneering youth magazines like the Face in the beginning of his career. But that’s where he made a name for himself, making photo stories that championed candid moments of the everyday, and foregrounding many of the 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, its name drawn from the term denoting the main image section of a magazine. The book, published by Loose Joints, pays particular attention to his relationship with commercial photography. It’s designed to be a space to critique and reflect on the tension between that world and his personal work, helped along by the anecdotes and remarks strewn through the book made by himself and his peers, including Phyllis Posnick, who spent 30 years as executive fashion editor at 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 Loose Joints
T-Shirty, London Underground, 1991

Shafran’s reflections on the commercial arm of his practice have been more of a recent development, however consumerism and commerce have been consistent symbols in his work. Shopping centres, supermarkets and then-thriving high streets have long been his playground, and cashiers, mannequins and shoppers his subjects.

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