A while ago Nathan asked if I would write something regarding the urban night or “cinematic” work that I have been building as a body of work for a number of years. For a long time, I’ve struggled when attempting to verbalize this work, I basically would sit in front of a computer screen staring rather blankly at the blinking cursor. So rather than wax poetic (maybe there will be a little bit of that) I’ve decided to simply explain the rather slow process that I’ve taken to begin to produce a body of work.
Social media has several pitfalls; however, one of the significant benefits for me has been the opportunity to be introduced to a huge variety of work in a short period of time. Had I not had something like Flickr, then I doubt I would have made a similar journey or maybe no journey at all. Early on, I came across a handful of photographers online creating moody images that looked like they fell out of a soundstage: individuals such as James Yeung, Steffano Santucci, Peter Lee, Maxime Villalonga and Andrew Mohrer (AKA DJ Poe) to name a few. So, while it may sound better that I was heavily influenced by Edward Hopper, George Tice, maybe Henry Wessel or Gregory Crewdson, that would be a fabrication as I had no introduction to the aforementioned names other than Hopper (go see Nighthawks in person in Chicago!) and that was at a pedestrian level. Bottom line, I was really taken by how simple or even mundane subject matter, such as an airplane sitting on the tarmac, could be made into something compelling– an image that would illicit a feeling of what it felt like to be there versus just how it looked. At the same time, I was rather clueless as to the why or what it was in these photographs that accomplished that feeling—though some of it is most certainly good composition and interesting light mixed in with a good portion of adjusting color tones.
At the time of my introduction to this style, I was more interested in landscape photography, primarily black and white seascapes and the hillsides of the Pacific states [see a spotlight on Chris’ landscape work–> HERE <–]. Color, or more specifically understanding the power and effective use of color, was something for which I knew very little and probably still have only scratched the surface creatively. Still, like many people when coming across a certain style, I thought I wanted to attempt to create my own images. The early results, like many first attempts, were poor at best. I really didn’t know what I was doing or what made sense to shoot etc. to achieve that illusive feel to an image. Many times, it helps to know where you are going, to have a plan, to be purposeful, but that took considerable time for me to obtain. and in all honesty, it took me a few years before I considered making photographs this way could lead to a body of work.
Shooting at night was not the first option for me. I did come to realize, rather naturally, that low light, shadowy times of day made things much more interesting, a curiosity compared to daytime hours. Slowly I just choose to work at night, relying on manmade artificial light to make my work. Having spent a handful of years scanning weather forecasts, looking for clouds, the right light that might only last for 5 minutes, it was welcoming to do something where that list of conditions was rather stable.
After slowly building out my own style, I reached a conclusion that there was something about all of this that I needed to push into. There was something I was after, and I felt I needed to revamp my technical approach to making these images something that could work for high quality prints. At the same time, I was trying to understand the “why” behind what it was about the subjects I was drawn to. Rather than having the why first, in a sense I let the camera guide me towards adopting an approach of making the work first, maybe without too much questioning, and then let the photographs inform me. Most of what I am drawn to are photographs of melancholy scenes that have cars or buildings that create a scene as though it was 30-50 years ago. I’ve been asked if this is an attempt at nostalgia; I’ve even had people researching the subject of nostalgia inquire what nostalgia meant to me. I’ve become firm that for me, nostalgia is not really the answer at least not in terms of how I believe the term is typically defined. According to Merriam-Webster, nostalgia can be defined as homesickness or a wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition. What I have rested on for now is that the photographs in many instances are more about a searching for the feeling of a memory. I say searching since memories are inherently fuzzy and flat out unreliable and while most would easily swear on a stack of Bibles or pass a lie detector test, our memories are usually inaccurate and get worse over time. None of the images I have made are a direct reference to a place in my formative years (I grew up in the East and have resided in the West for two decades) but something about an old grimy building or a car made in 1971 makes me feel that I remember something. Maybe it signifies change and things that can be lost during that process or maybe this is what happens to some of us when we are older than younger. For now, I plan to keep making photographs like this, something that is more about a feeling than documenting. Maybe my understanding of why will evolve, grow, dissipate, or dissolve, maybe the act of doing it and being firmly in the moment of doing it is what it’s all about. Regardless I want the feeling of being in a photographic world that is a bit off from reality to continue for as long as possible.
I’ve selected four images and provided just a bit of detail as to what the process was to create them:
IN A DRIVING RAIN
PUT IT IN NEUTRAL AND LET IT ROLL
A Few More Images
Explore more of Christopher’s photography: Website