Overview: Behind the scenes at the mall | Photography

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In around 1990, British photographer Nigel Shafran began photographing in shopping malls. Her Teenage Precinct Shoppers series involved portraits of Saturday afternoon pilgrims in seashell costume at Topshop and Primark, trying on regrettable new hairstyles for height. Some of the images, dark, exuberant and desperate in different ways, helped define the street style of identifier magazines and The face. They led to commissions for global brands, including Levi’s, often using models Shafran had encountered in malls. He calls his new compulsive retrospective book of these images Well, which was the term for the centerfolds of glossies, where conventional fashion photography began to encounter sharper social commentary. In the book, Shafran recalls his early days: “I remember when I first started taking pictures, I felt like the village idiot, wandering around roundabouts and other weird places.”

Thirty years later, images from that era look like pretty tender period pieces. This photo, taken in the multi-storey car park of Brent Cross shopping center in north London in 1993, is characteristic of Shafran’s quiet irony and pathos. Young men pushing snakes out of shopping carts became part of the post-industrial landscape at this time, the lowest rung of supermarket employment. The ill-fitting brown coat and orange gloves seem to go hand-in-hand with the rough concrete signage and parking lot; it’s a landscape designed to contrast with the neon appearances of the stores below, and their ever-faster fashion. “There’s a lot of staring in a hopefully non-judgmental way,” Shafran says. “It’s the duality of reality and fantasy, you know, we were in this world, and a lot of people thought it was an amazing place, but I think we knew, really, it wasn’t not at all the case.”

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