There are billions of stars that can be seen from Earth. Yet, due to increased light and air pollution, it is rare for city dwellers to ever get the opportunity to observe them in their full capacity.
Regardless, French artist, Thierry Cohen, manages depict what the view could potentially be like. His photography series, Villes éteintes (Darkened Cities), visualizes some of the world’s largest and most populated cities illuminated by the cosmos on a clear night. His images are made by compositing two images: one of an urban landscape and another of a dark sky.
“By combining two realities, I am making a third that you cannot see … but it exists! I am showing you the missing stars,” says Cohen. “Photography is way of showing things that we can’t see. Photography is a way to dream. I am not showing you post-apocalyptic cities, merely cities without electricity. I am bringing back the silence.”
He manages to do this by utilizing an equatorial tripod mount and polar-scope. For the series, Cohen visited nine cities, including New York, Los Angeles, and Tokyo. These urban landscapes are photographed first. Once captured, he then travels to a less populated destination at the same latitude with greater atmospheric clarity. Thus, Shanghai is actually illuminated by the sky that’s seen in Western Sahara.
Cohen also makes sure to use the same camera set to the same settings for each photo. However, he only captures the urban shots during the day in order to cancel out the effects of artificial light. This technique, known as “day for night”, requires the use of combination of filters and underexposure.
While the photos are certainly beautiful, they also are poignant. Through the series, Cohen is ultimately draws attention to the effects of pollution and urban development. A simple manipulation of the photographs offers viewers a glimpse of an entirely separate universe.
According to Cohen, “Photography is about poetry more than it is about reality,” says Cohen. “It is how you see the world. You can show the world you want to show.”
Darkened Cities is currently on display at East Wing Gallery, Abu Dhabi until November 20, 2014.