For such a closed sardine tin of a city, London has an uncanny knack of looking lonely, especially at night: its cobbled passageways uninhabited, acidic and po-faced. That is, according to William Eckersley’s newest volume of photographic portraiture, Dark City. For a number of years, Eckersley roamed the area’s streets in search of naturally-occurring scenes that capture this sense of isolation best, and came away with a collection so immersive and evocative you can’t help but wonder whether it’s the subject of a staged – if elaborate – joke. Quick to deny charges, Eckersley offered Wonderland a first hand look at the compositions.
What equipment did you use for Dark City?
My favourite camera currently is a Wista 45N, however it’s a very new addition after trading in my old Sinar Norma, (on which I shot Dark City). I loved the Norma, which was a 5×4 camera as well, and I’d had it for years. By the end, it was so beaten up only I knew how to operate it – taping over holes in the bellows, supergluing lenses back together. It was also a monorail (for studio work) rather than a field camera, so became too heavy to carry around… Such happy memories with it though.
What time do you head out to shoot roughly and what techniques do you employ?
The Dark City project is now completed so I’m not heading out for any more late night adventures. Unfortunately, I drew it to a conclusion over 12 months ago when Fujifilm stopped making 5×4 tungsten balanced film. After three years of shooting though I also needed a reason to knock it on the head and concentrate on producing the book. I used to go out whenever the sun went down (great in the winter, not so good in mid-summer with only 3/4 hours of darkness). Otherwise, very still conditions were an important aspect – even a slight wind would shake the camera and blur the shot over a 15 minute exposure. No additional lighting was used.
What is it about London-by-night that you find so alluring? What sets it apart from other cities, visually?
For me, the lack of other humans gives an urban space a particularly unusual feeling. London has evolved over centuries, primarily to service the needs of its burgeoning population. When you take away the people, you’re looking purely at the form of our built environment without any trace of its function. Stripped down in this way, you start seeing the city for its “beauty or ugliness, genius or folly”. Furthermore, daylight is usually flat and grey; diffused through cloud cover. At night the streets are lit from different angles by shards of light that all have different hues depending on their colour temperature. It felt like the stage was in the spotlight after the actors had left. There are countless things that set London apart from other cities, crucially that it’s on my doorstep! I also like the mix of architecture – the great building booms of the Victorian and post-war eras jostle along with the modern and ancient.
What are you working on next?
I have a couple of pet projects that I’m always adding to, but there’s also something hopefully quite big on the horizon. It starts in February with a month in Burma.
Words: Jack Mills