The City of Angels in the dead of night: flickering neon lights are at the heart of the French photographer’s Noir images. On his nocturnal excursions, he follows these beacons of light as he records dreamlike visions of the city’s future – and its past. From car washes and cinemas to bars, liquor stores and hot-dog stands: the charm of neon signs is as timeless as it is evocative.
When looking at your pictures, you really get the feeling that you’re sitting in an American film, directed by David Lynch or Quentin Tarantino…
Thank you so much, that’s a big compliment, because this is the city of both directors, and I love their work. It’s very different but true genius. Yes, I wanted to create something cinematic; but not too much…
Considering the title, LA Confidential, (which is the title of a movie), is your series a tribute to your love of film?
My photography is always very much related to movies. Even when I photograph architecture, I‘m trying to incorporate part of my inspiration. LA Confidential is a tribute to film; but not only. It’s also a mysterious letter to Los Angeles that I’m still working on. In every city I’ve visited or lived in, I’ve found it interesting to photograph the night-time. At night I see a different city, there’s a different atmosphere; specially when using available light. I’ve photographed LA during the day for my Angels series, but here I wanted something darker, playing with the light, the neons, the colours, to see how capturing LA by night would turn out. As I was often in my car, I felt like a detective, hunting for a good shot! So that’s also why I titled it that way! Indeed a reference to the movie.
What was the reason for the project?
After looking at the photographs, I ask myself: is it a dream or reality? LA is a unique city, a place of dreams but with a dark side too. I just want the audience to imagine a story behind the pictures of LA by night. As photographers we are observers and creators too. The places were really dark; so I wanted to put light on some places and create diverse scenes with my camera. Pretty much freestyle for this series, but staying consistent with the aesthetics. Thanks is due to the store owners, and architects of the city who have made LA very interesting. The mix of suburbs, down town, beach town, valley, and hills, makes LA a very diverse place to live and work in.
What you see in the pictures is a fascination with writing and light.
I am definitely obsessed with design, typography and signs; and all of that, with a lot of help from the lights, allowed me to create stories. I am not fascinated by advertising in the street; but it’s interesting to show the neon lights in the dark streets of this city of dreams, but also of despair. I also wanted to show a dark atmosphere, a contrast.
Confidential also means secret – was the idea to create a mysterious mood?
YES, totally. I wanted something very mysterious in these photographs, and to let the viewer develop the story behind it. LA is very, very dark at night, the beach town too… Honestly you don’t feel safe, even when there’s no danger around; but at 1 or 2 am, everyone is in their car. When I’m shooting at a place and taking my time, I’m the only person around taking photos. It’s strange; and every picture has a story behind it.
Although mostly static motifs, people sometimes appear in your pictures. Coincidence or staging?
I compose, I wait and I shoot at the right moment. I can do it in five seconds, and sometimes I will wait 1 or 2 hours. I have a love/hate relationship with shooting at night: it really depends of the city and my mood. Having people in my shot is the result of patience – and sometimes capturing the moment, because I was there…
Photographing at night is a special challenge…
I do love to shoot at night; I am a night person. It happens that I also love shooting in the daytime, at some special hours, it makes me feel happy. At night it’s a different story: I really feel like I’m on mission with my camera, to create new works of art with the help of everyone and everything in the pictures.
What did you consider when choosing the motifs?
It was all coincidences. I didn’t really plan this series. I drove, saw, walked and shot. You need to be motivated to take your car, find the right spot, start to walk around buildings and street blocks, and then compose the shot.
You used the Leicas SL and M10 for the series. What made them special for shooting at night?
In this series I wanted to shoot everything hand-held: 80 percent with the Leica SL and 20 percent with the M10. I love the look and sharpness of both cameras. The SL with its zoom and image-stabilization was just perfect, especially at around 70 mm. I use the M10 when I need fast aperture and more discretion.
Is your series a record of a certain time?
I don’t know, but I like to think that in ten years time I’ll look at these photos again and see how the places have changed. What I’m trying to achieve is also very historical; and I’m not the only one doing it. I’ve seen many artists and photographers who photograph cities perfectly, and with an original eye. I love looking at and collecting it. And, like I said, I love design and typeface, and seeing its evolution. This project is also a way to show the power of typeface at night. A message.
Born in Longjumeau, Southern France in 1980, Franck Bohbot moved to New York City in 2013. Since 2008, he has produced numerous photo series that deal with urban architecture. Theatres, libraries, swimming pools are all parts of his universe. The photographer’s visual style is marked by cinematic influences and a keen eye for the theatrical. Many of Bohbot’s series and projects move in the space between reality and fantasy. Find out more about his photography on his website and Instagram channel.