Clare Gallagher, The Second Shift

JTF (just the facts): Self-published in 2019 (here). Hardcover, with colored edges and dust jacket, 64 pages plus two wrapped sections, with 57 color photographs. Includes a poem by Leontia Flynn. Edition of 500. Design by Sort. (Cover and spread shots below.)

Comments/Context: Clare Gallagher is a photographer, a lecturer, and a mother of two boys. As an artist, she explores simple moments and banal activities, making the ordinary rhythms of home and family life her main subject. Her series Domestic Drift played with Guy Debord’s theory of the dérive – the idea of unplanned walking, in which one playfully responds to the surroundings, looking for new experiences in the ordinary. Gallagher applied that concept to her own life, as a way to break out of the routine. She focused on the things that she struggled with, and the parts of our lives that often go unnoticed or unappreciated, like cooking, cleaning, and raising kids. She says she “wanted a revolution of everyday life!”

Clare Gallagher’s new photobook, The Second Shift, looks at the hidden (and not-so-hidden) domestic labor women do every day in addition to having a full time job and raising children, and it’s a project she has been working on for the past ten years. The book has a greenish cloth bound cover with a dust jacket that covers roughly eighty percent of it. The image on the dust jacket is out of focus and blurry, turning a close up of food scraps in a sink into an impressionistic swirl. The book has brown end papers and the page edges are colored brown too. The images inside vary between full spreads and smaller square photographs; there are also a number of smaller pages throughout the book, breaking up the flow of the page turns. 

A short introductory text opens the book, and is placed on a smaller brown page. There, Gallagher explains that “The Second Shift is the term given to the hidden shift of housework and childcare primarily carried out by women on top of their paid employment. It is physical, mental and emotional labour which demands effort, skill and time but is unpaid, unaccounted for, unequally distributed and largely unrecognised.” Gallagher starts her book with this declaration, and then goes on to look more closely at the invisible work which is typically absent from the depiction of family and home. The Second Shift realigns our attention, and shows the subtlety and value of these tasks. 

The opening photograph is placed next to the text and depicts the close-to-the-chest crossed arms of the artist’s son, gently dappled by shadows and sun rays. This image, dreamlike and tender, sets the mood for the visual narrative. Throughout the book, there are delicate photographs of her two sons as they play (in makeshift costumes), cuddle, or sleep, their arms and hands often intertwined or overlapped. These images are mixed with pictures turning never ending housework into found still lifes and quiet formal studies: dirty dishwater, dust, baskets of laundry, vegetable peels, egg shells, and paper towels. With muted colors and soft shadows, Gallagher finds the serenity and even beauty in this domestic daily routine, where the repetitive and unrecognized become something surprisingly special. 

A full bleed photograph captures an open book on the ground as two pairs of children’s hands point and touch the page lit by sunlight, creating a tangle of limbs; right next to it is a smaller, slightly out of focus, square shot of onion and Brussels sprouts peels on a white paper towel, almost like a nest. Another spreads pairs a white crumpled napkin covered with drops of blood and a close up of a sink with floating food leftovers. The moments and details Gallagher has patiently captured look familiar, but her close attention to them transforms them into something more engaging.  

Documenting these fragments of life helped Gallagher to appreciate their transience, and to respond to her surroundings differently – observing her kids in this way showed her how to become fascinated with ordinary moments. But these pictures also have a sharper side – she uses poetic images to bring attention to the hidden labor women do every day, exposing its ties to capitalism and how it is “informed by deeply embedded notions of female duty and respectability.” As a result, she describes The Second Shift as “a quietly angry book.” And while Gallagher’s discomfort is present through her meticulous documentation of various elements of domestic life, her dreamlike images are amplified by a poem written by Leontia Flynn; spread across several smaller pages throughout the book, it takes the form of a conversation between a woman and a man, the gender inequality brusquely exposed. 

The Second Shift is a beautifully produced photobook, thoughtful and elegant throughout. It brings to light the moments of mundane life that are constantly present but go unnoticed, or are considered too unimportant to capture. But don’t let its formal lyricism distract you from its incisive message – this is a protest book in disguise. 

Collector’s POV: Clare Gallagher does not appear to have consistent gallery representation at this time. As a result, interested collectors should likely follow up directly with the artist via her website (linked in the sidebar).

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