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Winter 2009

Late on Sunday nights in winter, when most of us are tucked up in bed, Peter Kindersley is to be found prowling London’s back streets with his camera, looking for pictures to add to his series, “Details of London by Night”. He has been at it for four years. “I have a huge map of London on my wall,” he says. “I like to pick out an area I don’t know and drive around it to see what I can find to photograph. I’m looking for a side of London that we don’t normally see. Occasionally I catch sight of something, a view or just the atmosphere of a place, which communicates its loneliness or emptiness.” 

His images show an eerily still, almost sculptural city, wrapped in mists and delicate light. Many have a faint tenderness hovering about the edges, a wistfullness beneath the surface which seems to comment on the human condition.

Kindersley, aged 31, is the grandson of the late letter-cutter David Kindersley, who designed the gates for the British Library. He has lived in London for 15 years, and spends his days on commercial and editorial work—he has done shoots ranging from the Army to Neal’s Yard Remedies, as well as portraits and reportage for a number of magazines. But his passion lies in these nocturnal hibernal excursions. 

At night, when the light is at its most elastic and pliant, the urban world wears a veil, revealing unexpected outlines and perspectives. Kindersley is not the first to have discovered this. Brassai made a celebrated series of photographs of Paris by night, and Bill Brandt, whose work has been a great influence on Kindersley, published “London at Night” in 1936. But the trick still works. Kindersley’s lens transforms a familiar city into a phantom world with its own mysterious moods. 

He is drawn to London’s history: he likes reading Pepys and is fascinated by Hogarth. “I’m always looking out for those run-down old buildings that could have featured in Hogarth’s paintings,” he says. “Modern skyscrapers tend to protrude out of those gritty old back streets in central London. The documenting of that has become an ongoing obsession. It’s a constant reminder of the evolution of the city.” 

Tracing the breadth and depth of his chosen neighbourhoods, Kindersley’s unprejudiced eye fixes on angles and views that few of us notice amid the clutter of our daily lives. He gives value to the slightest things, so that a council-estate car park or an ivy-covered trellis becomes as deserving of respect as Tower 42 (the former NatWest tower) or the London Eye. His glimpses are both inviting and sinister. 

“Night photographs can bring out things you can’t see with the naked eye,” he says. “London’s night skies in winter can be wonderful, full of light and contrast. These photographs need very long exposures and sometimes the traces of slow moving cloud can give them a strange surreal look.” He prefers not to include people in his photographs, but sometimes, after printing, he discovers somebody in a shot, like the solitary man doing the washing-up in an upstairs room of a house in Blackheath. 

The oddities of night light produce an alluring patina of rich luminous browns and milky greys, washed with orange street light. “A place that is bulging and clamouring with people during the day, like Petticoat Lane Market, takes on a magical feeling when shot at night,” Kindersley says. “These are my intimate moments with the city. Each photograph is like a trace of a lost world. ~ JOANNA PITMAN

SILVERTOWN
Kindersley spotted this view of London ancient and modern (the O2 Arena and Canary Wharf) late one night. The Victorian building was in near-darkness and he didn’t know what he had been standing on until he developed the picture

BATTERSEA
The celebrated chimneys of the power station are seen from a deserted side street with a pub on the corner. The orange glow from the street lights makes a strong wash which infiltrates everything, even the cracks in the pavement

PETTICOAT LANE
This eerily blue shot of shuttered shops and empty market stalls was taken around midnight on a Sunday. “I found the empty stalls fascinating,” Kindersley says. “They reminded me of the bones of skeletons abandoned on the street”  

OFF BRICK LANE
This image lures the eye in, to the car parked at the end of the alley and Norman Foster’s Gherkin, which seems to grow out of the mist. London’s architecture is constantly evolving: this view has already changed

DOCKLANDS
Driving through the more derelict bits of Docklands, Kindersley found this bizarre view of a mass of satellite dishes. From the angle he has chosen, it’s as if they are growing like enormous sci-fi vegetables, a sharp contrast with the mundane ordinariness of the two blocks of flats 

LAMBETH
This view of a council-estate car park, with its arched entrance framing the distant London Eye, is one many of us might miss as we scuttle past. Kindersley stopped, looked and relished the wiggling yellow lines and the sight of the Eye lit up as if with Christmas lights

BLACKHEATH
A midnight walk along the edge of Blackheath delivered this shot. “I was walking carefully along a pitch black path, holding onto the rail, and I came across this house still lit up. I wanted to show Victorian housing contrasting with the modernity of Canary Wharf. I only discovered the man washing up in the upstairs window after I printed the image”

MOORGATE
This was one of the first night shots Kindersley made of London. Taken in Moorgate, it draws the eye from a sleepy passageway towards the monumental buildings of the City. The long exposure intensifies the colours, giving the humdrum buildings in the foreground a sculptural feel that allows them not to be outshone

THE BARBICAN
Kindersley shot this panorama by climbing to the cordoned-off space on top of one of the residential towers. “Unusually for me, it was early evening. The light faded rapidly and I wanted to catch the amazing luminescent sky with the glitter of tiny lights below. I felt as if I was in a low-flying airplane” 

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