Why Photograph Laundry?

Growing up in Southern California, the youngest of four, my mother never even had a dryer. I remember playing in between rows of laundry hanging in the drying yard, the light, the smell, the sense of mystery hiding in the tunnels created by pure white sheets.

Studying Art History at the University of California, Santa Cruz, I dabbled with various art media. But the questions of what to paint or draw or photograph and why were persistent. Seeing myriad of artists and bizillions of works of art, I realized my creative attention came alive transcending mundane chores, like laundry, into artistic action. Patterns of color and form in the random arrangement of clothes on a line, the beauty of a sheet, shadows of socks, work at play.

I view my life on my clothesline. I came to consciousness around the first Earth Day in the 70’s. It’s a drop in the bucket, each time I use my solar dryer, I think I’m doing my part to save the planet from the excess of energy consumption. It’s a chance to spend 10 or 15 minutes in the natural world in quiet moving meditation.

I rarely take the camera outside with a load, I wait to see if something catchy appears. I used to shoot every load, but after 10 years, I have a lot of laundry photos. What I look for now is a unique pattern, a moment of light, color or texture.

Learning that most Housing Associations ban clotheslines in their CC&R’s, as unsightly, I also want my photos to double as a political statement and small action working to reverse such repressive regulation.

Seeing the clothesline as a connection to past generations, when everyone used them, and seeing so few these days in modern America, I hope the photographs will inspire people to hang out their clothes once in awhile.

Laura Shafer currently lives in Sonoma county with her husband and two daughters. They also design and install custom clotheslines.

“Be a drop in the bucket, hang a load on a line.
It doesn’t really matter, it matters every time.