Cities After Dark Create Their Own Starry Nights

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Light pollution may block out the stars, but sometimes it puts on a gorgeous show of its own.

Chicago photographer Clarissa Bonet celebrates that show in Stray Light, her digital collages of illuminated windows dotting the skyline like stars. “We’ve replaced the natural with the manmade,” she says. “I think it evokes a lot of the same feelings, like wonder and beauty, that the night sky actually evokes.”

Bonet started thinking about light pollution after moving from Florida to Chicago in 2009. Instead of seeing stars, she saw a lot of steel and concrete and glass. Still, it dazzled her, especially as she drove along Lake Shore Drive each night. “You look in and the city just kind of explodes,” she says.

Bonet wanted to capture that sense of awe. Four years ago, she started taking walks downtown to photograph windows that caught her eye, but the images didn’t convey the impact of seeing hundreds of them at once. So in 2014, she started combining the images into square collages.

Each begins above the glare of streetlights on a parking garage, balcony, rooftop or other easily accessible spot. She places her Canon 5D Mark III on a tripod and focuses on the windows of office towers, apartment buildings and the like. She’s taken thousands of photographs in Chicago, New York and Los Angeles. “I call it collecting data,” she says.

She organizes the images in an archive and edits them. When it’s too cold or rainy to shoot, she sits down with a hot cup of coffee and chooses images, making sure she never repeats one. She’ll spend a few weeks to a few months stitching between 10 and 100 photos together in Photoshop.

From a distance, Bonet’s windows form abstract patterns of colorful light. Look closer, and you catch glimpses of people going about their lives. “At night [skyscrapers] become a little more vulnerable,” Bonet says. “You can see the life inside.” It may not be stars, but it’s still magical.

An image from Stray Light will appear at Art Miami 2016 from November 29 through December 4.

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