When we refer to New York as the city that never sleeps, we’re often thinking of the energetic streets filled with urbanites who work and revel at all hours of the day and night. But photographer Franck Bohbot presents Manhattan’s street corners and storefronts as symbolic portraits of the perpetual metropolitan pulse, throbbing luminously long after sundown.
Captured over the course of almost two years, Bohbot's series called Light On comprises 57 nighttime photographs of classic New York City scenes, from landmark establishments like the Gramercy Cafe and the Apollo Theater to ordinary laundromats and delis. Neon signs and marquees emit a multicolored radiance that’s often softly muted by snow or rain, and 24-hour shops glow through fogged windows, lending the images a gentle glaze of nostalgia. Human characters aren’t frequent players within the quiet compositions, though the occasional passing person appears as, in Bohbot’s words, a “protagonist.”
This reference to theatrical language—and the romantic grandeur of his captures, which are reminiscent of movie sets—is no coincidence. The award-winning French artist came to photography via cinema, and his prior background continues to inform his work. In his artist statement, Bohbot explains that his aesthetic “inhabits a space between reality and fantasy, documenting and storytelling, every frame – to borrow a phrase from Nan Goldin – like a still from a nonexistent film.” He aims to highlight “the surreal symmetries of our constructed worlds.”
And indeed, Light On showcases the strange and nuanced timelessness that is unique to Manhattan, where the bright vitality of daytime lingers into the night and the historic monuments of the past persist in the present.
My Modern Met granted permission to use photos by Franck Bohbot.