What is The Second Shift? Well…
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, Clare. The Second Shift. Self Published, 2019. unpaginated.
Hidden in plain sight and veiled from familiarity and insignificance, the second shift is largely absent from photographs of home and family. This work is an attempt to recognise the complexity and value of this invisible work. It is a call for resistance to the capitalist, patriarchal and aesthetic systems which ignore it.ibid.
In my book, any call for resistance to the aesthetico-capitalist patriarchy is a good call for resistance to the aesthetico-capitalist patriarchy. That said, well, I’m not entirely sure The Second Shift really gets there.
The photographs are a bit dark (or printed a bit dark) and muted, but are, themselves, aesthetic. Sure, Gallagher shows the piles of laundry, dirty dishes, vegetable trimmings, the messes left by children-at-play, all things that aren’t usually pictured, at least not by the party more-or-less responsible for cleanup. But these photographs are beautiful. They were made with attention and care and expertise. Much of the second shift as undertaken by most people, and I understand it, is a bit harried, carried out after full time work and commuting, on weekends, etc., and my limited imagination points to a more punk presentation, more blood and violence, if not in the images themselves, then in their execution. Gallagher had the leisure to make these pictures, to edit and sequence the work, and so her experience of the second shift is somewhat different to, for example, my mother in law, who worked 16 hour days and still did all the cooking, cleaning, and child rearing.* Amma—and the millions of women like her who are work the second shift—quite simply don’t have the leisure to make beautiful photographs of their second shift labor.
I don’t mean to downplay Gallagher’s effort or work or anything, and her photobook is so much more valuable and important than anything I’ve ever made with a camera, but she does have some bit of privilege that many many many women, many many second shift workers in general, just simply do not have. And this privilege goes unmentioned in the book (and in all of the reviews I’ve read of it). It’s a privilege that I share with her, as a white collar member of the managerial class, and while Gallagher has done better than I could, of course, her photographs just are different from what someone in another socioeconomic class, someone with less economic and social and educational and aesthetic capital than was exercised in the production of Second Shift.
If all this sounds like I don’t like the book or mean to downplay Gallagher’s experience, well, deepest apologies. The book is good, tending towards great, and Gallagher’s experience is as valid and worthwhile as anyone’s. The Guardian were absolutely correct to name The Second Shift one of the best photobooks of 2019. That said, Gallagher is in a privileged space, in that she had the leisure and ability and contacts to make this book, and to ignore that piece of it is to do her and her project a disservice, I think.
The Second Shift includes some quotes, humorous and pointed, from Joan Rivers, Simone de Beauvoir, Jean-Paul Sartre, the Office for National Statistics, and Edward Hollis, all on 1/4-sized sheets bound into the book at fairly regular intervals. Several of these reprint a poem from Leontia Flynn, which is probably the most obviously Feminist bit in the book, in its absolute denigration of the male character who is presented as boorish, unthinking, and wholly lacking in empathy. I bristle at this poem in the way that only a white man of privilege possibly could… and I’ll just leave it at that.
I really appreciate the layout and presentation, and the book works for me, though, again, I’m not quite sure it quite passes muster as “resistance to the capitalist, patriarchal and aesthetic systems” and ymmv.
Overall, I rate The Second Shift a solid and recommended 4 stars.
The Second Shift remains available direct from Gallagher, and her website and earlier projects are worth a look, for sure. I found the book thanks to Jörg Colberg, and I’m glad to have it in my library.
*Gallagher talks some about her process in Sean O’Hagen’s excellent review at The Guardian, and it’s worth quoting in full: “Gallagher’s creative process is slow and she often spends hours making big scans of negatives and searching meticulously for dust spots that she can correct with a brush and ink. ‘It’s an exercise in patience and attentiveness that takes up so much time but is absolutely necessary. I can’t not do it. It’s about getting to know the image intimately. You realise,’ she says, relishing the irony, ‘that even the dust is interesting.’”