THE SECOND SHIFT
By MICHAEL PERKINS
SOME CITIES ARE 24-HOUR HABITATS, and so provide a constant crop of photographic opportunities. New York certainly is not the only burg that “never sleeps”: it’s merely the one whose nightly pulses are as legendary as its daylight rhythms. Other places, drained of workaday bodies by nearby suburban sprawl, empty out to the bare bones after 5pm, spending fully half of every calendar day as ghost towns. I love being immersed in the unique flavor of a big city’s “second shift”, where darkness dictates a completely different set of rules for visual engagement. It’s more than just headlamps and neon signs: it can also be a strange kind of sleep mode where daytime spaces, underused at night, become redefined in ways both visible and mysterious.
The inside of this building, a fairly featureless slab in midtown Los Angeles, can’t really be examined in daylight, when it’s filled with worker bees. Contrast from the outside sunlight can make this glass grid imperviously blank from 9 to 5, and only at night can its inner cubicles and their interior glows be seen more clearly. Looking into these windows, however, is a reveal without a revelation. We merely see light patterns, a checkerboard mosaic of active and dormant work spaces. We look in even as we look “across” at reflections of the neighboring building from which I’m shooting. It’s intriguing simply as an abstract pattern, but there is no true narrative, such as might be observed by photographing, say, busy workers crowding the streets below at midday. Photographs of such night scenes aren’t really about anything, they just are.
However, the fascination for me is the viewpoint, which can only be observed at night, at a controlled distance, and, in the case of this image, in the even more artificial reality of a fifteen-second long exposure. In photographing under such conditions, I somehow feel like I’m stealing something, a something that’s invisible in the city that most people know and use during the day. It’s calming and exhilarating at the same time. I’m getting a privileged view into….what? Does it matter? Why did I bother coming here?
And when can I come back again?