PDN Photo of the Day

Lynn Saville Can See in the Dark

In Dark City: Urban America at Night, the second book of color night photos by Lynn Saville, the photographer expands her subject beyond New York City to include more places where the lights stay on all night after the people go home. From a Houston parking lot, where each level glows a different shade of mercury-vapor blue-green to the red neon glow of a misleading “Breakfast Served Anytime” sign, shuttered behind a Detroit window grate, Dark City, published this fall by Damiani, is a study of the varied ways artificial light interacts with color film. It’s also a study of the varieties of quiet that night can provide, whether the peaceful emptiness of downtowns in small cities or the more menacing hush of industrial landscapes, and everything in between. There are just about no people in Dark City – one exception is a ghost of a person who emerges from the glowing frosted glass of a Burlington, Vermont storefront; another is Saville’s own shadow, merged with her tripod, which appears in several images. Writes Geoff Dyer in the book’s introduction, “Part of the appeal of the night, for her, is that densely populated areas become largely unpeopled. At night a reclamation seems to take place. It’s not that the city becomes uninhabited; more that it is inhabited by itself, by premises and windows, walls and doors, all of which seem to exist for their own sakes, not as conduits to or components of social interaction.”

The emptiness of Dark City is not only the result of stores closing for the night. Saville began the project during the 2008 economic crisis, when record numbers of storefronts in New York City, where Saville lives, went empty as businesses closed. “I was lured back to the central areas of the city, where economic turmoil produced gaps in the urban façade—vacant stores whose glowing windows could resemble a Rothko painting,” she writes in the book. Saville expanded her look at the physical manifestations of the recession to other parts of the country, but as the economy recovered, she began to see these empty buildings as only one phase in urban life, where “signs of previous occupation, failure, and loss mingle with hints of renewal and re-creation,” she writes. “Gradually, I became aware of a rhythm of transition in storefronts and empty lots that seemed to be part of an urban ecology and growth cycle. As the economy improved, shuttered stores were converted to new businesses. I came to appreciate that this process had its own iconography, whose symbols included the ladder and the broom.” In these empty places, “objects can dream, and light and shadow can dance uninterrupted.”

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