This image comes from a larger series titled "In the Swim of Night." The series is an effort to understand how urban dwellers cope with night as a habitat. Every human lives part of his or her life in the night--not so much a place as a condition. What is the basis for trust between people as the sun goes down? What tacit contracts govern encounters in the waning light? How do people navigate bodies and things in the shifting penumbra that washes over streets, markets, bus stops, yards, and alleys? Cities of night reverberate with undercurrents of danger, with fugitive actions cloaked by shadows, amplified by the web of dark. Mass media capitalize on such undercurrents, creating pervasive images of cities as ungovernable spaces of dread where criminals lurk behind every turn. However, the bigger and more important story is that the vast majority of encounters in the metropolitan night are peaceful, even indifferent. While the life of the city after dark roils with nervous energy and the ambient murmur of the crowd, it nevertheless envelops people in a convivial sense of separate togetherness. It is this condition that "In the Swim of Night" explores. As with most of my work, this project occupies the intersection between documentary and aesthetic impulses, and in doing so it is neither real nor beautiful, but something else. That "something else" changes from time to time, but might best be described as the trace of a world, a sign of inhabitance, a condition of living. Thus, I use photography not to construct closed narratives or to make pleasing images, but to inquire after worlds in the making, to explore relationships between people and cities in a wide variety of locations.
Joseph Heathcott is a writer, photographer, and educator based in New York City, where he teaches at The New School.