LAST ONES OUT
By MICHAEL PERKINS
CITIES NEVER COMPLETELY CLOSE. We prefer to think of the urban workday as a uniform morning-to-afternoon stretch, but in truth, our concrete forests always harbor legions of people at the margins of those arbitrary time boundaries. Someone has to take out the trash, hunker over the overdue report, or merely cringe at the thought of going home to whomever. I never took a nighttime photo of a city building that was completely dark unless it was in the aftermath of a sudden power cut. There are always the little twinkles of activity, the randomly lit windows, here and there, that remain.
And each window is a story.
Mind you, the story may not ever be revealed in full. We seldom know who’s burning the midnight oil, just as we can’t but guess about their motives, dreams, or dreads. But the light created by their presence is enough to shape images with a little mystery, and that is at the soul of urban photography. In the daytime, everything is evenly lit, and the “after hours” people are rendered invisible. After dark, however, their special qualities shine forth, shaping the mood and character of the most mundane building. Or image.
Some lights are on because other lights are on. If Man “A” is staying at his desk way past dinner, then the lights at Diner “B” must remain on as well, ’cause Daddy needs him a sandwich, and yes, just one more cup of coffee. We don’t see those connections, but we know they, and many others, are there, keeping the lights on, keeping the human drama going. A second look at the city after hours allows us to document part of that drama, and, as is usual in photography, that glimpse may be all we need to whip up a little whimsy.