by David Butow
Exploring California in the dark.
There’s something about walking the streets in the quiet stillness of night. When darkness falls and businesses shut down, the strange colors from artificial lighting become more noticeable. Spaces take on a look and a feel for which they are not designed. The office workers, day laborers, shoppers, and diners have left, and there is a new energy in this absence, a substance in the void. There are no crowds, elevator music, or cell phone conversations to tune out. Instead, we can tune in.
As a professional photojournalist, my pictures have almost always included people. But a couple years ago a friend told me to get outside of my comfort zone. “Try shooting pictures that have no people.” This comment encouraged me to be more observant of visual mood when my plan would have been simply going from point A to point B. It added a photographic agenda to the journey. The final destination became point C, and point B became all the places in-between where I might pause, take in the energy of vacancy, and lift my camera to my eye. Many of the pictures that follow were taken in Oakland and San Francisco, when I was walking home from somewhere.
To have a photographic agenda is to have an excuse to be present in places you’d have no business being in otherwise, places like natural disasters or strangers’ weddings. It is also an excuse to be present in your daily life. There is being there physically, and then there is the more profound way of taking in places and moments with heightened awareness. This is a challenge and it is also a gift, because you might pay attention and have an experience when you otherwise would not. The agenda encourages me to grab the camera and record the scene, giving pleasure to a moment that previously would have gone unappreciated.