CHRIS SHAW: “Life as a Night Porter” (2006)

ASX Editors

June 1, 2010

By Doug Rickard, ASX, June 2010

The graveyard shift is no doubt a motherfucker.

You try to force your body and its natural clock over to an artificial one but it never really adjusts so you just live in a weird sort of phantom world where everything is illuminated artificial light.  Perhaps this then makes your world a sort of artificial world. At least your body is telling you that this is the case.

Chris Shaw’s Life as a Night Porter, published in 2006 by Twin Palms Publishers is perhaps the visual equivalent to this feeling of an artificial world and inverted clocks. The large format (A3) book, a stark black and white vision, consists of pictures, CCTV images and words. The words are scanned letters and notes, performance warnings to bad employees, denials of time off requests, diary entries detailing the guests ridiculous antics, all of this working to build out a burning-eyed, hazy atmosphere, the hallmarks of this phantom world.

The players in this Shaw world are those that serve the hotel guests, the porters, the chefs, the clerks… and of course the guests themselves. I suppose that the guests are only partial “players” as the guests get to go back home and leave the phantom existence, returning to their “normal” world, however fucked up it may be. And trust me on this, it is likely fucked up.

Chris Shaw
Chris Shaw

In this unnatural state of existence, sleep itself is carved up into increments rather than wholes but ultimately these fractions of unconsciousness never give out what one really needs, so the full time inhabitants are always cursed with the feeling of the partial, perhaps as if always catching up. Also, vice, obviously going hand in hand with the night, is on full tilt in London and the hotels are full of it. So, the phantom night world of the London porter is often a graveyard shift full of sex and skin, vomit, stench and shit. Drunks stumble through hallways with their ugly fat dimpled white asses ready to fall flat on their pudgy face and the prostitutes wait in the wings, ready to pull of their clothes and serve the repulsive doughy-faced drunk suits for dough. And the porters are close by, ready to serve all of them and clean up afterward, while rubbing their burning eyes and waiting for the endless phantom night to end.


Chris Shaw
Chris Shaw

This work is rough, raw, and thriving in ugliness but due to the fantastic nature of art, the ugly becomes the beautiful and the “mistakes” of a camera become the strength. The camera is wielded with freedom and willful disregard for “perfect” or perhaps it is wielded with the willful intention of the “un-perfect”. In fact, beautiful and classic pictures would have turned out to be a big bore but with Shaw’s “imperfect” camera work, Life as a Night Porter becomes visceral and strong. Ultimately, Shaw’s approach and his aesthetic cannot be separated from the night-time world of the phantom and its players. Is it Shaw that is building out this existence for us or is it the existence that is building out Shaw? Regardless, Shaw, his phantom players and the night are intertwined and 10 years worth of 12 hour shifts are done proud.

Bravo to these endless phantoms in their night shifts for their role in the creation of Life as a Night Porter. And of course, thanks to all the ugly guests who stumbled around drunk in the dark for making it all possible…

And, bravo Mr. Shaw.


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(© Doug Rickard, 2010. All rights reserved. All images © copyright the photographer and/or publisher)

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