Random Notes About Night Photography
1. Seeing Our World With Visitors' Eyes
In the daytime our vision and minds work together to produce generally "ordinary" views of our world, and as a result of over familiarity most of us are in real danger of failing to really SEE anymore, and our photographs are too often just record shots. But at night our vision and perceptions are less secure, become questionable as we are working with light levels where our own eyes no longer work normally. This is what sets night photography apart, our visualization of the image is relatively imprecise and subconscious, impression is everything. We are set free as photographers, we are not aiming to absolutely predict the final image even before it is made, instead we learn to recognize situations where something interesting will happen, and then we use our understanding of the entire photographic process to steer the image towards the meaning we intended. This allows us to move away from just recording what is in front of the camera, it gives us a special opportunity to project our imaginations into the photographic process as unusually we are not limited to what is actually THERE. At night it is as if the camera is seeing through reality to something beyond. The boundaries between the “objectivity” of photography and the “subjectivity” of an artist's vision blur together very rapidly indeed at night.
Additionally the ordinary nature of our earthly environment can be dignified by combining it photographically with the night sky, making us see that the apparently mundane tree/building/landscape in front of us is in fact as remarkable and beautiful as the stars above them. The universe is one grand continuum, and it is only sheer scale which gives us the illusion that we live separately from the heavens.
2. Night Photography's Special Links with Mystery and Memory
Night photography often echoes the way we remember the past. Night photography, like memory, retains some details, and omits others, we never retain everything. The balance of what is shown in a night photograph, and what is hidden, can be deliberately manipulated both in the camera and later at the computer, changing the meaning of the image to suit our intentions. "Forgetting" unwanted details in our images is a creative act, and darkness abets forgetting. Over time I have therefore been more and more concerned not to fill every part of my images with light, I encourage the shadows because these amplify the importance of things which are lit. To me shadow and mystery are linked. Mystery and doubt are at the heart of our experiences as human beings, and for me night photography gains dignity and meaning if it attempts to reflect this.
3. Night Photography As An Experience
A night photography trip is a purifying, simple and highly personal experience. This feeling of simplicity and purity is emphasised by my solitude on site. A promising night photography location is like a theatre set when everyone has gone home, the location and atmosphere draws extra power precisely because people are absent, either "safe" locked up in well lit homes and cities, or lost in the past. I like to explore the loneliness of night.
Being outside at night is a primaeval experience too, and for me raises the same questions repeatedly. Apparently simple ones, for example is night just like daytime with less light flying around, or is it made from different colours and moods? Is night just a deficit of light, or is it in fact the time when the real fabric and aspect of the universe is revealed to us? Day can be viewed as just the lucky proximity of a star, whereas most space is far from bright light, night therefore rules most places in creation most of the time.
Standing in a dark landscape waiting for an exposure to finish gives us a lot of time to really look at our surroundings. We can almost feel the stars moving round us, and every sound and movement is magnified. The landscape is tangibly real and our desire to sum up our experience in the next photograph heightens our vision. I usually take my night photographs with mixed feelings of excitement and mystery, an awareness of beauty and exclusivity, and fear.
(4) Night Photography - perspective in a difficult age
Night photography brings a sense of peace and integration with the landscape/night sky, a powerful counterbalance to the inevitable blunting of the senses that most of us fight against 99% of our lives. I believe that the meditative quality of good night photography truly reflects the photographer's state of mind. The night has scale and grandeur, I find it the perfect antidote to my culture's joyless consumerism and misplaced interest in "celebrities". I can't say I find night photography an easy discipline, but it is certainly an expressive one, and however variable my own artistic energies might be, the night always returns, offering its own profound aesthetic.