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Wednesday, 13 April 2011

Chapter iii

Photographing after dark - "Paris After Dark"

Why is it that street photography is mainly done in the daytime?, Is there a reason that street photography is avoiding after hours?
This question appeared to me whilst I was researching street photography. I found a book called "Paris After Dark" which focuses on Street photography at night and also reasons with the fact that there can be some great opportunities at night to capture.
One quote that really inspires me is from this book:

"In all great cities there are zones which reveal their true character only after dusk" - Taken from "Paris After Dark" by Paul Morand.

This quote almost suggests that cities transform in the eyes of photographers, with the street lights being the reason.  The quote that suggest this is taken from the same book, just a few lines down from the first quote:

"But when the nightmists rise, such places wake to life that is a parady of death; the smiling bank turns livid, dark surfaces grow pale and flicker with funeral gleams, coming with evil glee into their own again. It is the street lights that work the transformation."

It gives away an idea that the city is the underworld to a superstition, A world where vampires watch and wait until the sun goes down and the street lights activate. This then leads onto the idea that the photographer becomes interested in this idea and finds the urge to head into the streets at night to discover for himself just how different it is photographing at day compared to the night, it's a new experience and something different.

Another idea that the night may be avoided by the street photographer is the activities that go on in the town and the reactions that may occur.
Pubs, Clubs and nightclubs. The night tends to be the social time for most to go out and spend time with friends. With out having to say, this then creates a danger whether it is small or large, it is still present and could happen at any time. Peoples reactions may be different to when being photographed at night.

But so far I have only been stating the negative sides of street photography at night, There is so much more that is waiting to be photographed, We walk by all so often activities that only occur at night when they can be "unseen" with the result to be noticed by many that next morning. This I am talking about the people that create this city and also maintain it for us to live in.
Examples of these roles are:
The people who put up the christmas lights in the city, we never see them but we see the result.
The cleaners who clean the streets in the early hours of the morning after a friday night
The maintenance workers who fix lights and underground cables
Workers putting up banners upon the high street for all to see the next morning
The three week fair that is being set up during the night in the middle of the city center.
Stores and restaurants receiving their delivery of goods for the next week

These are just a few of the activities that go on in every city and some towns, we hardly ever think about it or see them, we more often see the result of these activities. So with this, There is a bigger reason to photograph at night. To document these events that most people never see.

"Now at last my eyes - a traveller's eyes, familier with all hours - watch, in the grey mystery of dawn, the spectical of Paris rising from her sleep"

"Home at last, I turn into bed"

Photographing Painted signs and not people.  - Sign Language

As street photography is a form of documentary photography, it is right to suggest that street photography my be anything that is in the street or city. One thing that is more in need to be documented is the constantly changing signs. This can be ranging from hand-made signs, industrial signs, graffiti signs, floor signs or road signs.
These are always changing, being put up, taken down, left to rot. All of them are different and there are so many in society, a good majority of them telling us either what to do or what not to do.

I started looking into this side of street photography as a result of finding a book called " Sign Laguages Street Signs as Folk Art" by John Baeder. It is a collection of some of John Baeders' own favouroute street signs that he has come across and photographed in his time.
John Baeder states that these signs are "cries from the heart". By saying this, he means that because they are hand made, most of them are the owner telling the public not what to do or what to do eg: "Do not park here", or "do not disturb". Also, it gives away the fact that each sign is individual and different to any other sign. Each on with different characteristics ands orders.

"One day while driving around a neighborhood that was close to where I live in Connecticut, I came across the sign, "Land to rent for signs." The purity of that message alone was enough for me. As I recall, there wasn't any land, it was a front yard. The sign was made from what seemed to be a piece of orange crate attached to a length of tree branch. I waited until dark, returned to the land and simply borrowed the sign for an indefinite period of time."
By reading this quote from the book, it is clear that even the smallest of things interests photographers. Some enough to make the photographer want to go back to the land and borrow a sign. The need to photograph these things before they disappear is too big of an opportunity to miss. By photographing these signs, it reflects the culture that we live in and how signs have become a way of life and are seen so often every where we go.
A quote that relates to this is:

" For me, the photographer is a witness. His job is to record real events rather than to stage or create something in front of the cameras" - Marc Ribound.

This is exactly what this is. Recording and photographing the signs, how they were/are without interfering with them.

"I want my children and children's children to be able to look at my pictures and know what my world was like. Even if it only helps me a little bit toward the understanding, then I've done my job and I have done it well" - Gordon Parks.

The idea still stands that even though the signs may be taken down, left to rot or covered up. The moment of them standing has been recorded. For the future to see and to keep. Every bit of documentary photography is important at showing the future what the world was like, even if it is just photographing signs.

As funny as some of the signs are, signs are not the only area that is continually changing in our cities, Some other factors that go change may be: 
Small businesses and shops - these often appear then disappear quite quickly, maybe due to no income coming in or the shop only being open a certain amount of time before the owner moves on to a new city. This activity happens alot in America and one photographer that documented this goes by the name of "Bluejake". He is is street photographer in the city of Brooklyn and is actively running his own archive of his street photographs online. 
Some of his work that relates to small shops appearing then disappearing I have place underneath: 

These images I took from BlueJakes website at

My Images
As a result of researching "BlueJakes" images, I have started to document some closed down shops that are in Plymouth, For this I have been using a Mamiya 7ii and also a Hasselblad Xpan, both film cameras with a tri-pod attatched to them. I use slow 125 ISO film in order to achieve very fine grain photographs and I also shoot on F16 and F22 so that I could get as much detail as possible out of the image. 

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