Night Vision: Photography After Dark, currently on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, features photography of the 20th century inspired by the pleasure, danger and allure of the night.
Night Vision presents 40 black-and-white photographs dating from 1898 to 2000—all drawn from the Met’s collection—including classic night photography of the 1930s-1950s by Berenice Abbott, Brassaï, Robert Frank, André Kertész, Weegee and Garry Winogrand. Three early photographs by Diane Arbus never shown or published before are also on display.
Capturing the aesthetic effects of nighttime rain, early-morning fog, shining street lamps, and dimly lit rooms, photographers have been drawn to the challenge of making images after dark for more than a 100 years.
Photography in low-light conditions first became possible in the late 1880s with the introduction of the gelatin dry-plate process. Alfred Stieglitz and Edward Steichen were among the first photographers to capture images after dark.
By the early 20th century, technical innovations of smaller handheld cameras, faster photographic film, and commercial flashbulbs freed artists to explore further the nocturnal universe. And night photography came into its own as an artistic genre.
With the publication of his book Paris by Night in 1932, Brassaï made his name as a chronicler of Paris after dark. Misty nights were his preferred setting; “Fog and rain…tend to soften contrasts,” he wrote. “Steam, as well as wet ground, act as reflectors and diffuse the light of the lamps in all directions. Therefore, it is necessary to photograph certain subjects in the rain, since it is the rain that makes them ‘photogenic.’”
Night photographers have also been drawn to the margins of society; picturing the dark as a shadowy realm of transgression. Peter Hujar for example, wandered Manhattan with his camera, creating images bursting with expectation and desire. Similarly, in the early 70s, Kohei Yoshiyuki used infrared film to capture nighttime images of sexual encounters in Tokyo’s public parks. He used infrared film to capture young couples as well as the peeping Toms who watched them.
Night Vision: Photography After Dark is on view at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY until the 18th September, 2011.