Using a Ricoh GRD III and a Nikon DSLR to photograph streets, people, architecture and anything else that catches my eye.

Sunday, 9 December 2012

City Noir

I have been very quiet recently on the blogging front. This is partly due to trying to move home, a heavy work load, cold damp uninspiring weather, and of course my general lazyness. Sometimes I just don't feel like the writing, photo editing, uploading, etc. The worst part is not having the urge to go out with a camera and actually shoot stuff.

I blame November for all of my flat brain activity. November is the first proper month after the UK shifts the clocks by an hour, thus causing every evening to be dark by 5pm. November is the month when all of a sudden, all of the roads are jammed with people who have no idea how to drive at night; hence my daily commute becomes tiring and stressful. November is also flipping cold in UK.


I have just recently gone out with a few fellow photographers to London, with a photographic theme and purpose. I usually do my photography on my own, with the freedom of my own making. Sometimes, however, it is great to work with some like minded people; with whom you can bounce off ideas and experiences, and learn quite a bit about our favourite pastime.

The theme of the evening was 'City Noir'; the purpose being to take photographs heavily influenced by the images of 'Film Noir' from the 1940s and 1950s. Luckily for me, Film Noir has always been one of my favourite cinematic genres. I have countless old VHS tapes, DVDs and books of film noir. I have always been attracted to the darkness of the scenes and the style of the imagery.

Most of the films seemed to involve individuals or gangs on the wrong side of the law, always deperately trying to survive within the gritty underworld of crime and deviance. These were the crooks and gangsters with a badly planned bank heist, or the guy who steps into the seedy world of vice. There was often a female role and love interest; either the down-trodden gal always trying to please her heartless hoodlum man, or the platinum blonde femme-fatale intent on the money, power and eventual destruction of the men she ensnares.

All the films were set in the alleyways and streets of American cities, in the shadows of brick walls, old warehouses, low rent offices, cheap hotels and motels... always seeming to be at their best, filmed in the black of night under the limited glare of old street lights and illuminated windows. The use of shadow and darkness was very consistent throughout the film noir genre.  Truly high contrast B&W.

For a little list of the greatest examples of film noir... check this Eddie Muller page.

And if you were to just search for film noir in google image search, you'd get this.

So anyway...

I met up in London with my camera-buddies, and spent about three hours lurking around dark alleyways and street corners of the big city. If you wander away from any main street, you'll soon find dark and somewhat lonely looking places, with just a few people hanging around. London is a fairly safe city compared with some places, so I was quite happy to lurk about with my stealthy camera ready to capture people.

As it was a very low light scenario, I set my Ricoh GRD3 up at a high 800 ISO, which is fine because any grittiness or grain actually helps these kinds of shots. My F1.9 or 2.2 was good enough to just about allow a hand held 40th or 50th sec shutter speed.

Here are the best results from my City Noir night.


s.c said...

You certainly nailed the city noir atmosphere here. Specially the first and the last one. Must be the hat. Like it Bill.

Michael Gatton said...

Well done, Bill. Gritty and a little bit dangerous looking, agree with s.c. that the hats work well. Nice to see you posting again...

Bill Wellham said...

Thanks... I totally agree about those hats. Everyone in the fifties wore hats. All the gangsters as well as the private detectives. Right now, hats are making a comeback here in UK

George McKay said...

Great idea for a photo-shooting theme! Might be an interesting challenge for me in this relatively-rural small town in Oregon. You've captured the look well - particularly images #4 & #6. Any of these could be stills from a film shot back in that noir era.

Giancarlo said...

great pics..loving the noir feel!