How Nigel Shafran ushered in an electrifying new era in fashion photography

The photographer’s impulsive images of teenagers loitering in malls and older locals in obscure London enclaves mingling with the biggest supermodels of the ’90s are chronicled in a new book ‘The fountain’

Nigel Shafran never really saw himself as a fashion photographer — or he admits it in his latest book. The fountain. Instead, he ends up with the alternative description: “I think I’m a photographer who can do fashion photography.”

If you’re questioning the difference, look no further The fountain for the answer. Chronicling Shafran’s longstanding relationship with the world of commercial fashion photography – told through “a taut edit” of the pioneering British photographer’s commercial oeuvre – the publication reinforces his trademark role as a warm-hearted and unpretentious documentary filmmaker in an electrifying, exclusive world.

After first dipping into the industry in the mid-1980s, Shafran soon began filming for underground giants like The face and I wouldand quickly became known for his unromantic, understated approach to fashion photography – an unwavering style he has maintained and evolved over the years. The fountain – edited and designed by Linda van Deursen and published through Loose Joints – is the latest in his expansive collection of photo books, including book of ruth (1995), Shoppers in the teenage district (2013) and dark rooms (2016). This time it’s a profound love letter to his commercial journey so far.

Nestled in it under the umbrellas chanelsin the offices of Fashionand under the china faces of Linda Evangelista, Cara Delevingneand Courtney Love are the elderly locals of Cricklewood, teenagers shopping in an Ilford borough and the passing shoppers of Oxford Street. If it weren’t for the acclaimed fashion titles featured below each image – Vogue, iD, the face – It would be easy for you to forget that you were in the “well” (the main image area of ​​a magazine) of the most well-known publications in the industry.

That is of course the point. Shafran is known for his seemingly impulsive, unplanned photography that delicately captures the sweet ordinariness of everyday life. It’s this idiosyncratic, anti-fashion approach to art that Shafran has guided before, as he says in The fountainto see his “commercial work as a separate entity from the rest [his] work” – but, he reflects, “over time they came together or even mixed up”.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in his later works, in which Shafran invites the reader behind the proverbial fashion curtain, revealing his makeshift sets, taking us behind the scenes at casting calls, and even taking us on modeling errands. The photographer also wryly pokes fun at the industry and its gluttonous obsession with consumerism, positioning models as buyers in Parisian luxury stores, making them “part of the transaction”.

This distinctly fashion-oriented era is a natural progression from Shafran’s early street style-like imagery, spanning the late ’80s and ’90s. Here the studios and department stores have been swapped for local high streets, supermarkets and estates – and instead of the Hadids, Shafran’s subjects are spontaneous passers-by. “We basically just went out and asked people if we’d like to wear these clothes for money,” Shafran recalls of a 1990 Levi’s shoot. I couldn’t do that now.”

Like this anecdote, every series throughout The fountain is accompanied by snippets of nostalgic memories from Shafran and his fashionable contemporaries, including Katie Grand, Anna Cockburn and Phil Bicker. There’s even a reprint of Kathy Acker’s history 1997 Guardian interview with the Spice Girlswho Shafran photographed (he also reflects on the guilt he feels for getting Acker’s last shot to take a picture of him with the girls – luckily someone else was on hand to take one of hers taking photos).

The presence of such impressive names alongside Shafran’s portrayal of the fashion world as strictly ordinary ties into his ability to show “the duality of reality and fantasy” in his commercial work and beyond. Though he doesn’t necessarily do it on purpose. How he enrolls The fountain: “I like the images more provisional than professional. I don’t like it when they’re too planned.”

The Well by Nigel Shafran is published by Loose Joints and is now outside.

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