Nightscapes

PHOTO ESSAY

What happens when the sun sets?

Words by & photos by Moira Ness


Nighttime. The sun sets and the bustling city slows. Traffic thins out and people retire indoors to sleep. A hush falls over Toronto. Driving around at night, I search for the right light, the right composition. Lights turn on. Lights turn off. Unseen spatial relationships reveal themselves in the night lighting. Do I recognize this street scene? Have I been here before in daylight? Would I know this setting with the sun up? It looks familiar, yet I can’t quite place the location or context. There are no people or cars, just natural and man-made backdrops. Empty land and cityscapes I’ve never noticed.

The more I drive around my city at night the more I notice intriguing ambient lighting. Suddenly, I want to isolate and preserve these scenes. I want to share the feeling I get when I look at an empty city street. The momentary escape into an unusually quiet world. I long for someone else to see it too, for them to associate feelings of familiarity, but only completely know the scene in daylight.

The nondescript urban landscape is dramatized through careful composition and light balance. A single ambient light source illuminates the scene. I exaggerate the mood, hone in on the darkness. Focus the spotlight. The harsh orange incandescent lights are cooled to match the night’s temperature in digital post manipulation. Lampposts and light sources are erased to create a surreal atmosphere. The sky and background are blacked out to further mute the photo.

After going through this routine for months I find myself driving further and further each night. Pushing how far I can get until I have to turn around. What hidden scenes am I missing out on from staying so close to home? How far out do I have to go until I no longer feel connected to the landscape? I haven’t managed unfamiliarity like that yet, it’s like I owe something to my house and have to go home.

I always go home.

In a fantasy I drive in a single direction until I cannot recognize my surroundings. It’s peculiar; I don’t know where I am and I like it. I obsess over it and I take photographs. I capture the scenes to remember and refer to. I will save them for a time when I can’t immediately escape. For when I stay home.

I will keep going further. I briefly pause a new city, finding it so beautiful without sound.

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Moira Ness is an emerging contemporary photographer specializing in landscapes and post digital manipulation. She spends her nights driving through the city of Toronto, searching for her next shot.