Why make Night Photographs?
(1) Night Photography - colour and mood
The most obvious reasons for night photography are the enormous changes in light and mood that are evident once the sun has set. Photographers are always chasing interesting light for their images, and conditions after dark often support fantastic colour effects. Even a dark night sky contains stars and upper atmosphere ionisation effects (glows) which often produce very beautiful colours.
I believe that many interesting night photographs are often taken at light levels where our own eyes no longer work as we would expect. 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. For me, therefore, night photography gains its great power by combining the two traditional photographic approaches, that of the found and the created image.
I think this acceptance of our own subconscious and
imprecise reading of the landscape is what characterizes night photography and
makes it special. The subconscious is mysterious and creative, night
photography taps straight into it.
(2) Night Photography - philosophy
Night photography takes us back to our roots as photographers because of its apparent simplicity. A contemplative photographer carting tripods about, estimating exposures, chasing unpredictable results, might feel a strong kinship with the nineteenth century pioneers of photography. There is added poignancy to this retro view of night work as my generation of photographers has largely made the transition from film photography to digital imaging, a truly seismic change. That is one reason I have marked each image on this site with a logo to record whether it was made with film or digital, because this is a journey I have made myself.
(3) Night Photography - a
heightened sense of place and time
Standing in a dark landscape waiting for an exposure to finish gives you a lot of time to really look at your surroundings. You can almost feel the stars moving round you, and every sound and movement is magnified. The landscape is tangibly real and your desire to sum up your experience in the next photograph heightens your 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 while you are working. 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".
(5) Night Photography - a mystical experience
A revered tutor once described
photography to me as "making something out of nothing", and that urge to create
something out of the darkness is powerful. The night is the negative of the
positive daytime, and this almost photographic duality still enthrals me. How
strange that the very days and nights that host our lives should mirror
the basic facts of analogue photography itself. Night photography is for the mystical.
Photography for me has always been a struggle to see more clearly. Every once in a while I make an image that pleases me, but in between successes I feel sure that I will never take a good photograph again, and apathy claims me for a while. I don't make many images during the course of the year, I am not capable of doing so. Sometimes lack of inspiration, the vagaries of the weather or that ever-present fear of going out alone into the dark yet one more time, conspire to sap my enthusiasm. However, eventually the need to make or find something again becomes too strong, and out I must go into the darkness to find the light.
I love night photography because it is strange and unearthly, a powerful counterbalance to the inevitable blunting of the senses that many of us fight against 99% of our lives. I can't say I find it 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.