Troy Paiva, whose work is handsomely reproduced in Chronicle Book’s recent Night Vision, is one of the acknowledged masters within the small cadre of professional night photographers. The stunning photos in this monograph demonstrate the high quality of Troy’s work.
These are images of crumbling ruins in the American west ranging from abandoned military bases and resorts to the old train station in Oakland, airplane part junkyards, and erstwhile roadside attractions. If it is romantic, seedy, falling down, and visually arresting it is grist for Troy Paiva’s night time mill, who previously mined this vein in his classic Lost America: The Abandoned Roadside West.
Night Vision is subtitled The Art of Urban Exploration, which strikes me as a bit odd. Certainly, the fascinating photos in this book and the related stories are about the archeology of recent human culture. But they are not particularly “urban.” In fact, with the exception of the wonderful series of photos of the old Oakland train station, this work shows isolated or even rural settings (you can get a sense of this even from the book’s cover).
While Troy Paiva’s writing is lucid and compelling, I also don’t have much use for the trendy and mostly irrelevant opening essay, Desert Iliad by Geoff Manaugh.
Troy writes that he shot film until fairly recently, switching to digital in 2005 (about the time I did). I believe that most of the photos in the book were taken with digital equipment. Troy’s preferred subject matter and technique differ from mine. He is looking for lost human artifacts at night, I primarily like the natural landscape. Troy’s exposures are in the 2-4 minute range, and he light paints with flashlights and gels. My exposures are often far longer, and I’m not that interested in colored light painting. These differences help point out the vast vocabulary range available in night photography, and why this is an exciting area for many people.
In his description of his technique, Troy writes that mostly he doesn’t post process his images much: “These captures are virtually untouched, straight out of the camera, with all the scene’s warts and blemishes intact.” Why Troy thinks this is a positive is unclear to me, although obviously many people share this viewpoint. (I won’t go into the argument in great length here, but a digital camera is a computer with a scanner and lens attached, so why not do some of the processing on a computer with greater capabilities?)
I highly recommend this book for three different reasons:
- You can learn techniques of night photography from a master.
- Troy’s stories of getting these photos on location in crumbling America are a great tale of adventure.
- The images are stunning, and worth the price of admission on their own.