Nightlife and its mystical creatures have always spiked photographers' curiosity. For London and New York-based photographer Anya Broido, London’s Soho neighborhood has been a playground, a studio, and place of pilgrimage for the past five years. “'Soho nights' is the culmination of a five-year project, capturing the underbelly of Soho nightlife and its changing face,” the documentary photographer explains. While studying sculpture at Central Saint Martin, Anya fell in love with photography, wandering the streets of the city with a camera. But she also fell in love with Soho's peculiar charm, which has made of it one of London's landmarks for decades now.
"Nightlife in Soho was always for the romantics, drunks, and dreamers of London, pulling in every type from each of its corners," she says. "A place for creativity, expression, pleasure and sometimes crime and danger.”
With a formation in sculpting, Anya naturally gravitated towards film as she identified with its tactile nature. The films' grain complemented the saturated and contrasted shots Anya snapped throughout her project. We spoke to her about her series “Soho nights”, how it came to be, and the works that go in the process of portraiture street photography.
Hello Anya! It’s great to meet you. First off, can you tell us why you chose to capture portraits during nighttime, given that the lack of light is hard to work with on film?
I’m inspired at night. I’ve found in the day the noise and business of the city can be distracting with the rush of people getting on with their day to day life and habits. At night, there is a shift, people's characters and behavior often gives way to more intimate exchanges and openness. Out of the darkness, their faces become illuminated by the various light spots of the city too, gaining prominence like stars in the sky.
How do you choose and approach the subjects of your pictures?
If I'm working on a project, I might have a type of person in mind, but I am just as much looking for inspiration and until I see someone who interests me or a specific moment where they'll my eye. Approaching them, I politely but confidently ask to take their photo and give a compliment or reason why I would like to do so. Being direct and flattering is a good way to make people feel comfortable.
Do you direct your subjects, or do you let them pick the way they want to be photographed?
It's a combination of both. I can often direct them into areas with more light and direct the angle of their body to suit the composition.
I do believe a great portrait reflects the personalities of the subject and the photographer together, the end product is a synthesis of both.
What they want to bring to the photograph Is a large part of what I am interested in and what I hope they will bring to the image.
Can you describe a typical night when you photographed this project?
A typical night on this project I would start around 10 or 11 pm when Soho has started to gain momentum or is already in the throws of it all! I enter Soho from different directions to change what I’m first encountering. I walk around all the main streets and majors spots and survey the atmosphere of the evening before I settle in a place for a little while.
Each night is different, I let the atmosphere of Soho on that particular night guide where I might go or what I might shoot.
Some nights I just circulate around repeatedly searching for something unknown. No evening is the same. Some evenings are filled with lots of interactions and encounters, others I'm more a voyeur to the spectacle of the place. There have been nights leading to a coffee with a stranger, to help to put someone into an ambulance, moments like singing in the street with an old Soho mafioso to standing for hours alone in the rain. It’s never the same.
At some point, I take myself on the night bus home!
Both your black and white and color pictures encapsulate the mood you capture. If you had to choose only one, which would it be?
That’s not an easy question! In my recent work, color plays an important role, detailing more the things I’m moved by, the lurid green and yellow lights of the New York Subway system or the warm tones of tanned elderly beach bodies in Tel Aviv, for that reason I would choose color. But I will always have an unconditional love for black and white!
What makes you press the shutter on a daily basis?
When I see a scene or an expression that I feel would be lost if I didn’t capture it, I feel compelled to press the shutter. Sometimes I'm just inspired by something as simple as the light on someone’s face and that makes me want to grab the image too.
What are your future projects? Anything we should be on the lookout for?
I’m working on a series based on individual strangers I meet in New York that’s combined with a video element. I am exploring more the nature of personal interior worlds amid large metropolises.
written by tamarasaade on 2020-03-04