City of Night

I grew up in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania. Aliquippa was the home of a giant steel mill; at one time it was the largest in the world. The entire monstrosity was near 11 miles long and employed close to 15k workers.

The town was like something out of a rust-belt boom-town dream. Or was it a nightmare? Aliquippa was in the Guiness Book of World Records for having the most bars per square mile. A recent article in our local newspaper put it this way. “Aliquippa was a dirty little town of 30,000 with more bars, bordellos and gambling rooms than most would care to admit. In 1918, a state Supreme Court justice offered the following assessment of Aliquippa:

It is said that the region is largely peopled by uneducated foreigners, who invariably carry concealed deadly weapons; that murders are common; and that when a quarrel ensues, the question as to who shall be the murdered and who is murdered is, largely, if not wholly, determined by the ability to draw such a weapon quickly.”

When I moved to Los Angeles I understood that this place certainly had its share of dangerous areas and situations. It was the 1980s and there was a crack epidemic and gang violence was a scourge in LA. So I resolved immediately to stay on the Westside and far from the bad areas of town. And I held onto that resolve for the first ten or so years that I lived here. But, you know, being a person from the place where I come from, the street has its attractions to me and after playing it safe for so long I longed for something that seemed more like home. Sounds weird to me now even to type that.

So I become somewhat familiar with some of the more interesting parts of LA. And at night. So when digital cameras finally became available with their convenience and the ability to experiment, check your results in real-time, and move quickly on, I had the greatest idea. Go out and shoot the bad parts of town with my digital camera. lol.

Well, ISO capabilities back then weren’t at all like what we have today on our digital cameras. And I didn’t actually, it turns out, have a death wish. 😉 So this project wasn’t something I devoted many evenings to. But it was an interesting time in LA. I think the LAPD had street crime on its heels at that moment. Or was it the exact opposite? I remember both periods quickly followed each other. Different police chiefs and different approaches. Anyway.

I had some tricks. I would go out on really REALLY cold nights. Nights that cold are really uncommon in LA so when the chill hits here, the streets can be very deserted. Anyway. Hope these images capture the imagination that I was gripped with when I took them. I would be the first to admit there’s probably not a single really strong image in the whole bunch. But they do capture something of the atmosphere of the city back then. The darkness and strangeness I was after more than anything else.

6 comments

    1. Thank you, so much, Jomo! I used to love those shots too. I seem to have lost my touch there. Thank you for making me think about them again. I should try some of those.

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