WHEREABOUTS is a series of blog posts by VIATOR contributors around the world describing the spaces and places that have inspired their work.
I started taking photographs at night during my second semester as a sophomore at Virginia Commonwealth University. This was also the beginning of a strange period in my life that was encompassed by my depression, as well as my self-proclaimed insomnia. It was relatively normal for me to wait until just a few days before a due date (often even the night before) to go out and shoot for hours. This method of shooting and meeting requirements was one that continued to suffice while I was a sophomore and junior in college.
Though the frustration of waiting until the last minute to complete a weekly shooting assignment (often comprised of 5-10 thoughtfully composed, edited, and ready to print images) weighed heavily on my mind, I continued with this process as it worked well with depressive episodes that came with sleeping throughout the day. After my first night shooting it was made clear that Richmond had a different side to it during the night. I was mostly fascinated by how all of the buildings looked completely different than they did during the day. It was as if they had alternate personalities brought on by various sources of light.
Learning how to create images of these structures at night while retaining the colors brought on by streetlights, LED’s, porch lamps, moonlight, etc. was the next step in my night-based journey. It was fairly easy for me to grasp the use of long exposure with my camera, though it was tricky at first to understand what aperture setting and shutter speed I needed to use in different situations. It took a lot of dedication and practice for the technique of long exposure to become second nature for me, but the reward was worth it in the end. Often times the only reward you really need is ability to say that you have mastered a technique, whether it is with photography or not.
One of the many buildings in the Richmond area that I photographed using long exposure was the Clarion Hotel at 3207 N Boulevard. Throughout the day the hotel resembles any other decades-old hotel tan, plain, nothing special. At night the hotel grounds are covered with purple and blue lights pointed upward towards the exterior walls of the building. The colored lights give the Clarion a sense of liveliness that it lacks during the day (one of the many reasons I wanted to utilize the technique of long exposure with my camera on this building). I went out to shoot this hotel around 20 times, always looking for different angles and pieces of the building that were different than the time before. After a few hours of shooting at the Clarion, I would head home and immediately look through the hundreds of photographs I had just taken. Oftentimes the sun was starting to come up on the drive back to my apartment, which for me was a sign that I had accomplished something with my camera.
The question I am most frequently asked about this process is whether or not I feel safe shooting between midnight and six in the morning. It’s often hard for people to believe me when I tell them that I feel equally as safe shooting at night as I do during the day. I’ve always known that I have a pretty good head on my shoulders, as well as a great deal of common sense. If I ever feel that I’m danger while driving/ walking around at night, I will leave and head to a safe location. The most conclusion I’ve come to throughout this project is that the buildings won’t be going anywhere anytime soon, and if I need to – I can come back and shoot.
Second semester of junior year I, with the guidance of professors and peers, began to realize that this series, Night Lights, needed to be put on a hiatus. This series is made up of aesthetic-based photography with a hint of self-exploration outside of the camera, and it was not enough to hold my interest for much longer. This series helped me understand more of what Richmond has to offer as a temporary home as I worked towards my BFA at Virginia Commonwealth University. From this yearlong project I was able to become extremely knowledgeable about my camera, making it second nature whenever I’m shooting manually now. I hope to revisit this series in the future, as it was a helpful method of exploring a new city I was previously unfamiliar with.
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