About the Artist

I've been snapping photos from a young age. I remember being put on a film processing budget when I was in junior high school. It wasn't that my mom, a poet, didn't appreciate my artistic efforts; she just didn't think we needed so many photos of weeds and park benches and other things that caught my eye.

In high school, having viewed Ansel Adams' spectacular prints in a book, I decided that I wanted to create beautiful images like that. It didn't take long for me to realize, leaving aside the obvious qualitative differences between a master photographer and a high school student, that my images looked nothing like Ansel Adams' prints. While his photos were of nature, I was drawn to people and places.

By my early twenties, I had been taking snapshots for many years before I made what I consider to be my first real photograph. The image was of a young woman's foot, caught mid-step crossing a bridge. There was a feeling when I snapped the shutter of capturing something powerful. This was reinforced when I saw that image appear in the developer tray. It was more than just the object caught on film, but the metaphor, the hint of having something more to say hidden in the grain and texture of the print.

It is an elusive thing, trying to capture or even articulate, what I was able to achieve with that photo taken decades ago on the bridge. Still, the photographs that I have been able to produce since then, in my travels around regions of the US, in South America, Europe and Asia represent this quest for hidden meaning in the implied narrative of the image.

About The Night Photography Portfolio

Afterhours - In the Pacific Northwest

Photographing in cities with unoccupied streets and sidewalks fascinates me. Wandering in empty alleys enables me to get a sense of each place. When I shoot at night without the distraction of people, I feel I can get to the bones of the city. My images are mostly unpopulated, because people in a photograph fill up the space with their presence and alter the image.

My forays into the night began when I moved to Seattle from San Francisco. I didn't realize it, but I had become dependent on a specific quality of light. The Northwest light is softer and different from what I was used to. We moved to Seattle in the summer, and by the time I had settled into our house and a new job, it was winter when I next picked up my camera. The days were very short and the light much flatter. This led to a creative block, as I found myself unable to photograph in my accustomed manner. Struggling with the lighting dilemma, I turned to night photography. This fit well with the swing shift job I had as a digital image retoucher for a printing company. When I got off work, often after midnight, I would take alternate routes home, looking for interesting images of the city.

In Spain - La Noche

While in Spain in the spring of 2004 I had to adopt a slightly different approach to night photography. Seattle streets are relatively empty late at night, but this is far from the case in Spain. Unpopulated late night streets appeared to be almost non-existent when I went out in Barcelona, Seville, Toledo and Madrid. I found a small window of time in the early morning when the last of the late nighters were trickling home and the first of the early risers were hitting the streets. Consequently the majority of these images were captured between 4:00 and 5:00 in the morning.

In Bellingham

Working in Bellingham for the latest addition to this series has been an interesting departure from my usual procedure. By nature, night photography is a secretive endeavor. I work in the dark and shadows. When I swap tales with other photographers working similarly, we talk of fences jumped, the over-enthusiastic security guards who ruined a great photo and the cooperative security guard who helped out. We tell stories of the interesting and occasionally dangerous people you meet working in the odd hours of the night.

Bellingham was nothing like that. I was able to work all night in various parts of the city and the Georgia Pacific paper mill site with the cooperation and coordination of various city agencies. It was a very welcome and exciting experience.

Before I had on-site access to the Georgia Pacific site, I started photographing from the street outside. I discovered it was a rapidly changing environment from one week to the next. After developing my negatives from my first shoot, I wanted to adjust my exposure. When I went back to the same spot the next week, a building that had been in the foreground had disappeared.

The Bellingham City Hall is a striking building, but when I saw it at night, it was dark and unlit. The people at City Hall agreed to leave the lights on allowing me to capture its beauty on film.

It is moments like these that I look for in the urban landscapes lit by man-made lights and moonlight. I find myself drawn to dramatic, starkly lit empty areas. Though one might expect loneliness and solitude in these images, I see them as impressions of the absent humanity that will return to the frame with the daylight.

Technical Info

I shoot with a Zeiss Ikon Nettar which is an old Post WWII folding camera which shoots 6x6 on 120 film, and a Mamiya C220 twin lens reflex camera mounted on a sturdy tripod. With the Mamiya, I use older chrome model Mamiya lenses, preferring the 2.8 80mm lens which is a close equivalent to a 50mm lens on a 35mm SLR. I also use a slightly wider angle 3.5 65mm lens, a 105mm short telephoto and a slightly longer 135mm telephoto. With these older uncoated optics, lens hoods are a must in order to minimize lens flare, especially when shooting near overhead lights. I use a high quality Nikon locking cable release for the time exposures.
My film is Tri-X Pro.
I make my own photographic prints.

Kai in Seville, 2004
photo by Virginia Yamada.