Thursday, 2 October 2014

La Nuit Anglaise

A couple more shots of Lyme Regis by night.  The fudge from this seafront shop is truly delicious, I'm told.  I don't eat sweets any more, myself, but I don't mind waiting around for those that do.

See that canted camber on the Cobb?  I'm amazed, but pleased, that the local council's Health & Safety Committee haven't put up a railing.  Instead, there's a notice which says, "Mind how you go!  Don't blame us if you fall off...", or words to that effect.

I like photographs taken at night very much, although I'm not a big fan of "night photography".  That is, photographs which appear to have been taken by daylight, but which were actually taken at night, using very long exposures.  I've never understood the point.  At night it's dark, therefore it doesn't seem unreasonable that a photograph of a nighttime scene would be dark, too.  There are exceptions, of course: it took me a while to realise that the odd atmosphere of much of Michael Kenna's most characteristic work was achieved this way.  As it involves a tripod and a lot of waiting around, however, it's not something I've ever been tempted to try.

That long-exposure technique is the perverse opposite of the cinematic "day for night" effect (called in French "la nuit américaine"), whereby a night scene is created artificially simply by filming in daylight and lowering the exposure.  Day-for-night was used a lot in classic noir movies.  When it's done badly, as it often was, you can be puzzled by the apparent brightness of the Californian sky at night, as gun-toting gumshoes creep around the shrubbery.

What I like about night photographs is the weirdness of the unreal colours that are created when film or a digital sensor encounters artificial illumination.  I also like the painterly look of hand-held shots in the dark, with their grainy, shaky resolution even at ridiculous ISO settings. "Imperfect" photography is often the most expressive photography.  Indeed, imperfections -- of focus, framing, exposure, and so on -- are often, paradoxically, what distinguish interesting work from the routine photography of record.  This picture, for example, has a surreal, trippy mystery that its daytime equivalent would struggle to achieve:

This reminds me that there is yet another half-finished project that needs some attention.  A few years ago, in the wake of a cluster of deaths -- friends, family, work colleagues, teachers and mentors -- I found myself starting a series of "dark" images.  I gave these the working title "In Darkness Let Me Dwell", after the song by Shakespeare's contemporary, composer John Dowland (a difficult piece to sing -- sorry, Sting -- but I quite like this version by soprano Ellen Hargis or this one by countertenor Andreas Scholl).  I think enough time may now have passed to revisit these pictures with fresher eyes and a different, less melancholy motivation.

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