A few weeks ago I was poking around the web one evening and I came across a site called Lost America: Night Photography of the Abandoned West that features hundreds of extraordinary night photos by photographer Troy Paiva. Paiva has spent more than 20 years photographing a fascinating assortment of abandoned and forgotten remnants of the American West--junk yards, ghost towns, old signs, forgotten and "immobile" mobile home parks and deserted amusement parks (among other subjects). The photos are simply amazing.
Paiva began exploring these vestiges of the West back in the 1970's and began photographing them in 1989 and has put together a simply amazing document of these rarely-examined objects and places. But more than just mere documents, he has used his wonderfully creative and inventive photo skills to transform them into brilliantly colorful images that are both cheerfully whimsical and somewhat forlorn feeling at the same time. His site contains hundreds of images and he has also produced two monographs: Lost America (Motorbooks International; out of print but available used) and Night Vision: The Art of Urban Exploration (Chronicle Books).
He uses a technique called light painting that involves using long exposures (often several minutes or longer) and then selectively coloring different portions of the scenes using both flashlights and accessory electronic flash units. The lights are colored with theatrical gels and he frequently uses several different color gels within a single shot to create striking color contrasts. Because the exposures are so long many of the shots also capture ghostly-looking regions of the ambient light and even trails of star light. Interestingly, Paiva works mainly on moonlight nights (almost always within four nights of the full moon) so that he can take advantage of bright skies.
The light-painting techniques that he uses took years to develop and since he began shooting in the film days there were, of course, no LCD panels or histograms to check--everything was an experiment. You can read in detail about his night photo techniques on his site (and how refreshing that he shares his techniques and tips so openly). Just reading about some of the dangers and obstacles that he faces in getting his shots (spiders, snakes, scropions, squatters), however, is more than enough to drive away the faint hearted. He's a good writer too, so you'll get a kick out of reading the details of how he makes his shots.
If ever you've driven past an old auto graveyard or a washed-up amusement park and thought they might make interesting photo subjects, then you have to see how far Troy Paiva has taken those ideas. With a bit of imagination and lots of long hours in often dangerous settings, he has managed to record a beautiful visual history of locales and objects that most of us will never see--many of which have since been bulldozed or buried and, were it not for these photos, would be lost to time. I found myself inspired to look at night photography in a new light and now have an even greater appreciation for the beauty of our abandoned past and I think you will too.
If you want to see a few thousand more of Paiva's photos, visit his Flickr photostream.
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