Sunday, December 9, 2012
Thierry Cohen: The City After Dark
Posted by Jay at 6:32 PM
Photo manipulation is usually considered a method of turning a scene of reality into something imaginary. When a photograph is altered, it loses the truth of the scene being depicted. One photographer does the opposite by combining two realities into one "super reality". Thierry Cohen shows viewers what cities would look like after dark in his series, "Villes éteintes" or "Darkened Cities".
Thierry Cohen is a commercial photographer who has devoted much of his professional career to the use of digital effects in his images. His photographs have appeared in various French publications, and he has exhibited his works in Europe and in the US. His latest personal project, "Villes éteintes" or "Darkened Cities" has garnered widespread interest for the technical details that went into creating the images.
Darkened Cities is a set of photographs showing different metropolitan cities around the world darkened against a star-lit sky. These images give the impression of what New York City or Tokyo would look like in a blackout against the milky way. All of the buildings in the cities are devoid of any artificial light, making the nighttime sky light up in a view that would be impossible with all of the light pollution in the real world.
In order to capture these cities lit only by the natural light of the stars, Cohen had to travel to two different environments: populated megacities and sparse deserts. This was because Cohen had to capture the starry view not possible in the bright metropolitan cities. The photographer would first record a cityscape, and then note down the exact latitude of his location. He would then travel to a deserted landscape that shared the exact latitude as the city, point his camera at the same skyline, but this time with the aim of recording the sky. In this way, Cohen was sure that the night sky he was recording was the same one that would cover the city he recorded earlier.
Cohen traveled to the most populous cities around the world, including New York, Los Angeles, Paris, Tokyo and Rio de Janeiro. He then traveled to largely untouched wilderness such as the Atacama Desert, the Sahara and the Mojave, all of which share the same latitude as some of these cities. The super-impositions are thus technically correct, although never realistically possible unless all of these cities and the regions around them blacked out in order for the stars to be seen as in these images.
The cities that Cohen chose were recorded during the day in order to avoid any electrical lights, and then digitally manipulated in order to darken their appearance against the night sky. The darkened cities are then set against the backdrop of the natural lights provided by the evening stars.
While the monochromatic images are beautiful, they also tell a sad story of how even the most beautiful cities pale in comparison to the natural beauty of the stars. Some of these cities, like New York and Tokyo, are famed for their neon lights and vibrant nightlife. Their beautiful artificial lights however are the very reason why the night sky cannot be seen because the artificial light drowns out the lights above them. On one hand, Cohen's nightscapes are a beautiful imagining of a reality that cannot be captured due to the circumstances of urbanization, on the other hand, they are a cautionary tale of what man stands to lose for every inch of modernization that encroaches on the natural world.
This is Thierry Cohen's website. There are more images from his "Villes éteintes" or "Darkened Cities" on the Galerie Esther Woerdehoff website, the source of all these images. For a different take of what a city might look like after dark, check out Gabriel Croppi's "Metaphysics of the Urban Landscape".