Perhaps one of the most photographed cities in the world, there aren’t many angles LA hasn’t been viewed from. But in his new series “Noct Angeles,” the Melbourne-based photographer Tom Blachford has managed to capture a side of the city not as often photographed. Rather than sunny vistas including palm trees, Venice Beach lifeguards, the Hollywood sign and other clichés, Blachford has created a series (some of which can be seen at the new NoMad Hotel in DTLA) that’s anything but trite. Shooting in the rain, he says it took him three days to finally embrace the weather and the results are stunning. Gloomy, gritty and a little ominous, the images capture unremarkable sites across the city bathed only in moonlight and streetlights, with glistening streets wet from the rain. We spoke with the talented photographer about this new haunting series.
Tell us a little about how this new series came to be.
The brief was to capture LA avoiding all clichés. I had hoped to capture LA in a similar style to my “Midnight Modern” photos in Palm Springs which are shot by moonlight, but instead using day for night (shooting with harsh sun to make it look like night) but found it was actually forecast to rain for five days straight the most rain in something like 40 years in LA. For days I pulled my hair out waiting for the rain to stop but a few nights before we left I decided to embrace it and realized that the slick streets were far more interesting than what I had in mind. It was a great lesson in not over conceptualizing and the importance of just going out and “playing” with no result in mind.
Unlike “Midnight Modern,” these are a creepy rather than warm—despite the similar theme of nighttime architecture—can you explain a little about that?
The process of shooting “Midnight Modern,” as well as my intentions for the series were completely different. “Midnight Modern” was about exploring the feeling of a lost era, of removing the ability to judge when the images were taken, day or night, 1968 or 2017. “Noct Angeles” was more about exploring a place and a time but removing it from the context that people expect to see it in. I guess it does share in common with “Midnight Modern” that it shows the dark side of a town famous for its sunshine, in this case it was just a little more gritty and unsettling.
The “Midnight Modern” series could only really have existed in Palm Springs as it was the only place i could reliably shoot that kind of architecture with moonlight as my light source. in LA the light pollution is so strong that moonlight can barely overpower it and the skies are always glowing as a result. This series became a matter of accepting the conditions and learning to hunt for the cinematic moments created by the street lights, the interior lights and the film set “wet down” that the rain gave. Sometimes I felt kind of like I was shooting this film that a lighting guy had gone around town ahead of me setting up, but not telling me where to look. The blue stain over the images was necessary for me to translate the feelings of uncertainly and unwelcomeness.
What was your shooting process like?
This series was a welcome return to my roots of how “Midnight Modern” began, of crawling the streets at night being driven purely by instinct and shooting only what caught my eye and drew me in. The last couple of series of “Midnight Modern” became a huge production and much less instinct driven so this was a lot of fun. I used only one lens (a 45mm tilt-shift) that I had pre-focused so I removed a huge amount of options and in turn decisions from my process, it was about identifying something, jumping out of the car, making it work and moving on as quickly as possible.
What mood do you want viewers to get from this series?
Coming from Palm Springs which is such a safe and welcoming town with barely any fences or security, I found LA incredibly intimidating and unwelcoming to see these huge gates, signs and cameras everywhere in a lot of suburbs. My intention was to explore the feeling of what it is to be an outsider, both in terms of the city and of each house. Shooting at night amplified this massively, there is this buzzing paranoia both of being discovered, and of being watched even though neither me or any residents need to fear each other. I tried to infuse the images with that tension that I felt so heavily whilst shooting.
I’m completely obsessed with the infinite options of what could/has/will happen within the walls of these houses
I should point out though this series is very much about possibilities, not about realities or voyeurism. If I ever saw a person or any identifying objects or items in a house I would never take the shot. For me, the reality of what is happening inside each house (most likely people on smartphones) is the least interesting thing imaginable, I’m completely obsessed with the infinite options of what could/has/will happen within the walls of these houses. For me the idea of a home acting as a stage for untold dramas is more interesting than any story I could ever tell.
Images courtesy of Tom Blachford