The Nighttime Was The Right Time: A Photography Story

As I was flipping through the photographs on my phone the other day, I more or less said this to myself: “Holy crap, I snapped away like a damn fool in 2019!”

I made that observation because it seemed to me that at least 800 photos from last year reside in my phone’s innards. Not only are they mementos, they’ve also proven useful, as a fair number of them have adorned articles published on this site. And you know what? I ain’t done with using the photos. No way! That’s because, in the midst of reviewing the pix, inspiration zapped me with a story idea. Shit, that hurt! And to make matters worse, I think I tore my right pectoral muscle when I grabbed for the idea before it could vanish into thin air. Shit, that really hurt! And still does. Man, the things we go through in the name and service of creativity.

Nighttime outdoor photos. Yes, that’s what this essay is going to feature. I hadn’t given it any thought before but, when perusing 2019’s photographic output, I realized that I hadn’t taken all too many that fit into that category. The heavy majority of the pictures was created in daylight. And half or more of the after-dark shots were from restaurants or music clubs. Indoor locations, you dig.

But we work with what we have. After sifting through the appropriate pictures on my phone, I’ve selected nine to be shared with the world, three each from Philadelphia (USA), Cape Cod (USA), and Edinburgh (Scotland, UK). Nicely inhabited places are they. And pretty safe places for the most part too. But my camera contains no night shots from their woodlands or desolate sections, because I don’t venture into areas such as those after the Sun dips below the horizon. I’ve got a heart and I’ve got a pair of balls, but nobody ever will mistake mine, metaphorically-speaking, for Rambo’s. I know my limitations.

As I’ve noted more than once previously in this publication, walking around while looking at things has been one of my main interests since I entered my early 20s, which occurred 50 years ago. And most of that walking has been done in daylight, as my photos from 2019 emphasized to me.

Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia. (August 8, 2019)
Spruce Street Harbor Park, Philadelphia. (August 8, 2019)
Woodmere Art Museum, Philadelphia. (December 27, 2019)

But I like to wander nocturnally too, and should do more of it than I have. What’s not to like? When natural light is low, the world seems to don new sets of clothes. For instance, some areas blossom wildly at night under artificial lights, because those lights contrast so magnetically with the darkness overhead. Think Times Square. Along those lines, there are blasts of man-made colors in the pictures that I’ve selected from Cape Cod and Philadelphia, though the mysterious nature of nighttime is mixed into all of those scenes too. They won’t be confused with Times Square.

Provincetown, Cape Cod. (October 13, 2019)
Provincetown, Cape Cod. (October 18, 2019)
Sunset as seen from Harding Beach, Chatham, Cape Cod. (October 19, 2019)

It’s a different story for the pictures I’m presenting of Edinburgh, Scotland. They are on the somber side. Melancholic. Their shadows possibly hold secrets. When I walked the streets depicted in those photos, I had the feeling that almost anything might happen. And I liked that. I was a bit wary yet relaxed, in a dreamy state that vibrated tantalizingly, deliciously. I guess I’m in a very receptive mode as I type these words, because I’m reliving my late night strolls through Edinburgh right now. They took me to locales within myself that I’m not often tuned into. They were good for my “soul.”

Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 22, 2019)
Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 28, 2019)
Edinburgh, Scotland. (May 28, 2019)

Well, several days have passed since I composed the above paragraphs on the 28th and 29th of December. I was planning to wrap up the essay with only a few more words. But it has become obvious to me that it needs to go on for a while longer. I say that because my wife and I spent part of New Year’s Eve with two friends near Philadelphia’s Delaware River waterfront. For many years Philadelphia has set off fireworks in the middle of the river on NYE, and the 31st of December, 2019 was no exception. The four of us took up positions atop a parking garage that overlooks the river. We didn’t have long to wait before the big event began at 6 PM.

How were the fireworks? Splendid as always. Not only do I love fireworks, I enjoy snapping photographs of them. And the ones I took the other evening are, of course, nighttime outdoor pictures. So, they are a natural fit for this story. Here are several of them. Happy New Year, one and all! Let’s hope that 2020 will be an uplifting year. And, by the way, please don’t be shy about adding comments or about sharing this story. I thank you.

If I Were A Painter . . .

I’ve penned some love letters to Cape Cod on these pages, but it has been a while since last I did. Yes, I’m in love with The Cape. My wife Sandy seconds that emotion. The enormous expanses of undeveloped oceanside shorelines; the humungous, otherworldly sand dunes that run for miles within the peninsula’s far reaches; the I-never-would-have-expected-them-to-be-there woods and forests that pepper the landscape . . . Cape Cod has natural beauty up the grand wazoo. And, that being what we most favor about The Cape, Sandy and I spend lots of time poking around the great outdoors during our Cape vacations. But we also like to emerge from the wilderness and do other types of things that ring our bells. For example, we get big bangs from some of the old village sections of certain Cape towns, such as those in Provincetown, Wellfleet and Orleans. They are cute and charming. We wander on their streets, investigate their stores and stuff our faces at dinnertime in their restaurants.

Last October, in Orleans, we took in a cool event one Saturday morning. The Addison Art Gallery, one of Cape Cod’s best, organized it. Two or more times each year AAG selects an outdoors Cape area to be immortalized and invites a bunch of the artists it represents to find views that spark them in said area, set up their easels and paint away. In October, Addison chose Orleans’ villagey heart, in which it is located, as the locale. The artists were instructed to paint and complete their masterpieces between 8 AM and noon, and then to bring the canvases to AAG where they would be framed and hung on the walls and offered for sale that evening at an artsy gathering to which the public was invited.

Maryalice Eizenberg.
Maryalice Eizenberg.

Sandy and I, who haven’t lifted a paint brush since grade school, like to watch good artists at work. So who knows why we got a real late start and didn’t arrive at the five or so square block painting zone until 11 AM. By that time most of the artists had finished their jobs and were packing up or already gone. Luckily we got to see two painters who were still going at it. On a sidewalk near AAG, Maryalice Eizenberg, hooded to shield herself from our friend the Sun, was staring down a big, old, yellow Victorian house across the street. She sweetly translated what she saw, in colors deeper than those 80 feet away. We chatted with her for a couple of minutes as she worked. “Have you seen what Paul Schulenburg is painting?” she asked us. No, we hadn’t. “Take a look. You won’t believe what his subject is.” And she pointed to where we’d find him, hidden from view from her own spot, but only half a block away.

Paul Schulenburg.
Paul Schulenburg.

Now, Paul Schulenburg is an artist whose oils I have seen at AAG over the years. He’s really good. His paintings have a stillness, a sense of completeness, à la Andrew Wyeth and Edward Hopper. Sandy and I followed Maryalice’s finger and came upon him. He and his easel were positioned between two houses, and he was zeroing in on a small section of one of the houses, a large and mostly white-shingled affair. But it wasn’t the house so much that he was interested in. What had caught his eye, and had become the focal point of his painting, was a bright green garden hose. Its color contrasted just-so with the less brilliant green of the side lawn, and had plenty to say to the house’s white shingles and red bricks. “Man, this guy is something else,” I more or less thought to myself. “A hose? Yup, and he is doing it proud.”

For reasons unknown, that October day floated to the top of my porous memory bank last week, and it got me thinking. Were there any aspects of my house’s exterior or grounds worth putting down on canvas? I decided to take a look. I would use my best impersonation of Paul Schulenburg’s painterly eye.

Sandy’s and my abode rests in the middle of a typical suburban block near Philadelphia. The house is modest and is surrounded by more shrubs and trees than I enjoy taking care of. All of it looks nice, but ain’t exactly a head-turner. I mean, Better Homes And Gardens Magazine has no plans to contact me anytime soon for a photo shoot. That, however, wasn’t the point. My mission was to pay attention to the details, to notice boffo alignments of objects, neato color contrasts, whatever, that were waiting to be discovered.

IMG_0821IMG_0799IMG_0805My house? Man, I’m glad to be living within it, but, take it from me, its exterior front and sides are vanilla. Tons of bricks and stones with almost nothing quirky or asymmetrical going on. I gazed artistically at one of the few ornamentations, a tangle of gas meter and pipes near the front door, and wondered if it would make for a decent painting. Well, maybe, but  . . . eh. I then walked around back and gave the grounds there a once-over, starting with the shed. How about its doors? Their designs seemed kind of sharp. Or did they? Nah, the scene lacked pop. A blooming Rose Of Sharon in the backyard, however, definitely did pop. How many floral scenes have been painted over the years, though? Maybe 20 billion. The world didn’t need this one.

IMG_0841All was not in vain. Because attached to the rear of the house is a great-looking deck that I figured would hold out hope. Hope morphed into certainty when I spotted something on one of the deck’s supporting posts. It was a knot, golden and aglow, in the wood. That’s what I would paint if I were a painter, I decided. It was a natural, a star waiting to be born. I walked around the knot, snapping photos, checking out various vantage points. And came to think that one perspective gave the best results for my imagined painting. In that vista you see the crazy quilt formed by part of the deck’s underside and the stairs leading up. You see a bit of slate patio and brick surface of the house. The scene’s palette is muted, all wan greys and browns, except for the golden medallion that you can’t take your eyes off of.

But I did take my eyes off the knot in a bit. And then I folded up my fantasy easel and went inside. It’s good to learn things, and I came away from all of this with an insight that never had occurred to me before: A painter in search of something to paint is little different than a writer (moi?) trying to come up with a story idea. And exactly the same is true for dance choreographers, photographers, film makers, chemists, astrophysicists, chefs, you name it, all on the prowl for projects that will make them buzz. The wellsprings of creativity are thick and bubbling, though not always easily tapped.

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(Cape Cod photos by Sandra Cherrey Scheinin. The others by yours truly. If you click on any photo, a larger image will open)