Since 2010 the photographer Thierry Cohen has devoted himself to a single project –"Villes éteintes" (Darkened Cities) – which depicts the major cities of the world as they would appear at night without light pollution, or in more poetic terms: how they would look if we could see the stars. Cohen’s method harkens back to the process employed by early 19th century photographers like Gustave Le Grey where two different exposures were made and composited so that a print of a seascape could contain detail of both the water and the sky. Seeking out views that resonate for him Cohen notes the precise time, angle, latitude and longitude of the scene he is shooting. Then he researches where the barely visible stars would rotate to as they make their way around the earth. Traveling the world to photograph cities from Paris to Rio de Janiero and from Tokyo to New York, Cohen continues to add new cities to his photographic atlas – most recently capturing Venice’s many notable views.
Cohen’s trip to Venice in June of 2021 came at a time when the city was empty of tourists due to COVID restrictions. Says Cohen “I have known Venice for more than 40 years, but it was a unique feeling to be in the city with only Venetians, and where the usually crowded places were empty.” Inspired by the timeless beauty and unusually peaceful silence as well as the works of Caneletto and Guardi, Cohen found himself mesmerized by views of the city that were almost unchanged from over 300 years ago. No other cities in Cohen’s canon have this quality.
After capturing his Venetian views Cohen tracked the stars to two possible locations with the same latitude (45° 26’N) – In the footsteps of Marco Polo in Mongolia and Harding County, South Dakota. Because of Covid restrictions Mongolia was not possible and so two months after photographing Venice, Cohen found himself on the plains of South Dakota where the skies were free of light pollution and the stars were as bright as they would have been in 17th century Venice. Due to the humidity as well as the global Covid related decrease in pollution South Dakota’s stars had an unusually blue tint inspiring Cohen to name his Venice pictures “Some Stars are Blue”.
The work is both political and spiritual questioning not only what we are doing to the planet but drawing unexpected connections between disparate locations. Equally importantly it asks: what do we miss by obscuring the visibility of stars? As the world’s population becomes increasingly urban, there is a disjunction with the natural world which science posits causes both physical and psychological harm. Cohen’s photographs attempt to restore our vision, and in beautifully crafted prints offer the viewer a possibility - to re-connect to the infinite energy of the stars.
Cohen’s full Venice series along with several other of his Darkened Cities can be seen here. For fuller details please e-mail email@example.com.