(C) Photographer Stephen Riley, Somerset, UK
There’s something about cities by night. An ordinary street scene takes on some kind of special magic, if you care to look and allow it to in your mind. And what the camera can do – and can’t – is also fascinating.
Cameras do their best work with ample light, but it seems to me that what happens at night, when they struggle to cope, can be even more creative. Outcomes are no longer smooth and calculated. The dumb device gives it its best shot, but the results are grainy, the colours strange, and much is lost in the gloom, giving the eye and mind chance to wander. Daylight’s bland concrete concourse is now a yellow snake in a coal-coloured frame. Solitary strangers and half-cut couples stagger into pools of sodium streetlight to be transformed into anonymous, static shapes: black glyphs fixed forever on a gleaming electric frieze, unknowing parts of a composition, objectified by an indifferent mechanical eye more interested in light and dark and layout than people and their problems. Bits of mystery street trash glint like grubby stars in an upside-down tarmac sky. A couple of miles from his home, MacColl’s Dirty Old Town comes to mind.
Even at this odd angle, I think this place is instantly recognisable to those who’ve spent time there or passed through. Any guesses?