In a fashion magazine, the ‘well’ is a special section reserved for the issue’s most creative editorial stories. It’s a section of pages free from the influence of advertiser brands, and has, throughout the history of magazine-making, been the birthplace of some of fashion’s most revolutionary images. The Well is also the name of seminal British photographer Nigel Shafran’s landmark new book, which chronicles the image-maker’s fashion work across four decades, from the early 1980s to 2021. For Shafran, whose down-to-earth style has always been decidedly anti-fashion, the space offered by the ‘well’ represents ripe ground for “unexpected creativity, subversive critique and wry commentary,” says the book’s publisher, Loose Joints.
Shafran began shooting for magazines like The Face and i-D during the late 80s and early 90s – a time when a new wave of photographers were reacting against the decadent fashion images of the era, in search of something more real. During this time, Corinne Day began shooting friends and soon-to-be superstars like Kate Moss in run-down Soho flats, while Juergen Teller pushed the canon with his spontaneous, sexually-charged photographs.
Printed across 370 pages, The Well presents a sprawling survey of Shafran’s gentle, contemplative and intensely human fashion photography. Appearing more like documentary imagery than anything else, Shafran’s work seeks out the subtle beauty in everyday life, leaving behind the glamour of big production sets for portraits in London flats, corner shops, and the residential streets of everywhere from Golders Green to Detroit. Compiling imagery for magazines like Vogue, Pop, The Face, and i-D, the book also features snippets of personal conversations with industry icons like Kathy Acker, Melanie Ward, and Anna Cockburn, to name a few.
“This isn’t a book of best pictures, it’s more of a tight edit than that,” writes Shafran in The Well’s introduction. “It’s a book about the ideas that always end up somewhere in my work, I guess ... Windows, shopping, making decisions, and consuming.” These themes of the mundane and the everyday have also been the subject of Shafran’s six previous books, including Ruthbook (1995), Dad’s Office (1999), Dark Rooms (2016) and the widely influential Teenage Precinct Shoppers (2013).
In The Well, we see Shafran’s naturalistic, dressed-down approach evolve throughout the 2000s and 2010s to become more tongue-in-cheek – in places poking fun at fashion, celebrity and modern consumer culture. In a playful shoot for British Vogue in 2014, Shafran captures models as shoppers in luxury stores, while elsewhere he imagines Courtney Love being chased by paparazzi for Love Magazine, and in 2020, even dresses Bella Hadid up as a petrol pump for American Vogue. “I grew up around the world of fashion, it’s a bit like family,” says Shafran in the book. “Still I always considered myself an outsider, but I’m probably more of an insider, really.”
The Well by Nigel Shafran is published by Loose Joints, and is out now.