Citing French philosopher Simone de Beauvoir on housework as a Sisyphean task, Clare Gallagher’s elegantly designed photobook The Second Shift is a visual exploration of the daily grind of domestic labour. Published last December in a limited edition of 500, it was included in the Guardian’s top fifteen photography books of 2019.
Notions of femininity have historically tended to cluster around domestic cleanliness and order, and the ‘second shift’ refers to this extra burden. Yet while women’s worth has traditionally been bound up with the daily management of dust and dirt, this housework and domestic care are almost invariably unpaid and hidden. As Gallagher – who teaches photography at Ulster University – notes: ‘The second shift is largely absent from photographs of home and family.’ Nor is its drudgery normally visible in galleries or the subject of art books.
On the one hand, Gallagher’s choice of photographic study shines a light on the depressingly familiar: smears, slime and discarded vegetable peelings, jumbles of dirty laundry, sinister grime gathering in the ridges of the draining board, congealing leftovers, precariously-mended cables, or a tangle of wires in an extension board. On the other hand, interspersed with the detritus are tender, intimate photographs of her young sons at rest and play.
Shot mainly in natural light, her images have a calm, muted tone – all the more to focus our gaze on the rituals of everyday chores and prompting reflection on the value and demands of this invisible shift. The series is also a reminder of the repetitive nature of domestic work and the creeping tyranny of ‘keeping on top of it all’.
Gallagher’s new work including The Second Shift will be on show in Germany, Finland and Lithuania later this year, as well as the Gallery of Photography in Dublin in September.