the shadows

Night brings different challenges for the photographer but also many delights. Stockbridge is on the edge of the New Town and many of its cobbled streets have lovely wrought iron street lanterns. Robert Louis Stevenson wrote about Leerie the Lamplighter, who patrolled the streets lighting these gas lamps, now electrified.

This picture was taken in the winter months in a mews not far from me. The clock tower of St Stephens, only its illuminated face floating above the street, shows the time as ten past eight. A car is parked to the right, tucked into the wall. Doors hung with creeping ivy are deep in the gloom. A Victorian lamp attached to the upper floor of a mews house, where the windows are lit, casts a pool of light on the cobbles.

I’m chasing the moon, trying to include it in the picture – a perfect sphere hanging alongside the clock face of the tower – but it seems I can get either clock or moon in my viewfinder, but not both. Frustrated, I think about giving up. Then quite suddenly (I start a little) a figure steps from the shadows and begins to walk towards me. I can’t make out any details of his appearance and he hasn’t yet seen me. I click the shutter a few times.

The colours of the resulting picture were a mix of greys, browns and blacks – conversion to black and white was an obvious choice.

The man who walked out of the shadows that night is a local – I see him on the street almost daily. He has no idea that he was the crucial element that lifted the photo out the ordinary.

There’s a cut-through from St Stephen Street to Hamilton Place. It starts at the Stockbridge Market arch, goes past the old fruit stores, a row of tenements with pretty gardens and then into this slightly grim underpass area. The authorities and the tag artists wage a constant graffiti war on those blinding white walls.

Of course, it’s a photographer’s dream. That swelling wall to the left is actually the stairwell of the flats above. And at some point, concrete slabs have replaced half of the original cobbles. There’s two exits you can take here – the left is cobbled and the right slabbed. Bright daylight does lovely things in this space and at night, the wall lamps make it positively Hitchcockian.

As I snapped away, happy as Larry, I knew that what I really needed was a person. As a comma to all that blankness. But it had to be the right person. Some chattering teens were the first ones I rejected, then a scowly man with a chocolate labrador (how on earth can any man remain scowly with such an idiotic but adorable dog?). Then out the corner of my eye, I saw this lady. Mercy of mercies, she was a slow walker. Click – right there.

All Photographs © Rachel Cowan

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