Especially in busy cities, we often avoid going outside in the dead of night, fearing the danger that’s associated with looming darkness. Even the places that are the most familiar to us transform into alternative realms, coated in ominous shadows and an unsettling stillness. But while many people prefer to carry out their regular routine during the day, some stay restless at night, afflicted by insomnia or strange sleeping patterns solidified by an abnormal routine.
For photographer Edo Zollo, the nighttime streets of London are the industrial backdrop for his interesting take on a classic genre. When the busy city’s hustle and bustle heads in for the night, a cool aura of solitude blankets the city, allowing him to fill his hours of insomnia with photographs of London’s overlooked architecture and structure, as well as solo passersby. By focusing on harsh lines and artificial city glow, Zollo’s images seem like striking stills from an impressive film.
In this interview for LensCulture, Zollo talks about what compelled him to start photographing at night, his dynamic with his subjects, and what he hopes his audience will take away from his impressive work.
LensCulture: Tell me about how you started making these photographs. What drew you to the night specifically?
Edo Zollo: Before I worked as a full-time photographer, I worked night shifts in many different positions over many years, so my body clock is a bit messed up. I find that I function better and am more awake at night. I got bored of staying inside and watching TV, so I started to venture out and make the most of my downtime by playing with photography. Soon after, I was hooked. London is a completely different city at night, with different sounds, different sights, different people. I find it quite mystifying to spend time in the London that very few of us pay attention to.
LC: Despite the darkness, these images feel peacefully observant somehow, rather than predatory. Tell me about what it was like when you first started taking photographs. Were people hesitant around you? What methods did you develop to avoid harsh interactions?
EZ: I try to bring a sense of voyeurism to my shots, and the depth and perception plays a huge role in this. With this in mind, I like to keep my distance and remain completely anonymous. I prefer not knowing any of my subjects, and I don’t want them to know they’re being photographed. It’s more interesting that way. This has likely saved me from a few difficult encounters.
LC: What time is it, roughly, when you take these photos?
EZ: I usually begin to wander the streets of London at around midnight, and stay out until the early hours of the next day.
LC: These images are taken in the dark, which makes lighting incredibly important for how you create. You need enough to light up the frame, but enough darknes to convey the late time of day. How do you find good light at night? Are there certain things you look for?
EZ: I’m attracted to colder colors—distinct lines and shadows cast by a single light-source—and that’s what I search for when I’m out at night. I’m usually looking for single street lights, narrow roads and tall buildings. Once I’ve found the location, I wait! Every so often, someone with just the right amount of mystery will come long.
LC: There’s also an incredible cinematic quality to your work. Tell me, when did you first decide to start incorporating this aesthetic into your work, and why? What does it add to the messages you are trying to convey?
EZ: I am big cinema lover. In another life I would have liked to work in the film industry as head of photography, helping create the scenes we see on the big screen. In the way movies can tell a story and elicit a strong emotional response from an audience, I want my photographs to do the same. I want viewers to look at my shots and see a whole scene playing out in their mind. Who’s the subject? What are they doing? Where are they going? Post-production is a big part of this, but it isn’t necessarily about editing a piece of work to make it look better. It’s about subtly changing certain aspects of a shot—the contrast, the colours—to create a mood, a feeling.
LC: You focus specifically on the streets of London. What is it about this city that is of particular interest at nighttime?
EZ: It’s difficult to concentrate in London during the day, and I find that I notice a lot less of what’s around me. When there are fewer people around, and there’s so much peace and space, I can look for the lines and the shadows that feature in so much of my work. London has an amazing architectural landscape, and as attractive as it is in the day, I think it takes the darker sky and low lights to accentuate the sinister beauty of it.
LC: You have said that you like your images to be both impactful and ambiguous. What do you mean by this? Why is it important in your work?
EZ: To me, an impactful image is one that is both interesting to look at and one that brings about an emotional response in the viewer. That being said, I don’t want everyone who sees my work to feel the same thing—I want them to have a unique emotional response. I try my best to produce images that are mysterious and that are suggestive of something going on, but it’s really important to me that I don’t give too much away and allow anyone who’s looking to come up with their own interpretation.
LC: What do you want your audience to take away from this work?
EZ: I’d like to think that my shots are mysterious—a bit like Rear Window. There’s usually a subject, but I like to understand as little about them as possible and to draw my own conclusions, however far from the truth they may be. I hope that my viewers pick up on that, and get a little lost in their own thoughts. Art is subjective, after all, and I want every viewer to have a different idea regarding what kind of person the subject might be.