For seven years, photographer Journey Gong wandered the streets of NYC capturing mesmerising sights during the time period known as blue hour.
The blue hour is a period of twilight in the morning and evening when the sun is below the horizon and indirect sunlight bathes everything in a predominantly blue shade. In his series of the same name, Gong documents the beauty of the city as it’s blanketed in the ephemeral colour.
His artist statement recalls how the series started:
“On a photo excursion in New York City in August 2009, Gong walked by Grand Central Terminal and thought the contrast between the classic Mercury Statue Clock atop of the terminal building and the modern glass facade of the skyscraper in the background would make a striking picture.
“However, the concrete statue and the silver glass looked entirely gray in the viewfinder at the twilight hour. Just as he was about to walk away, the blue hour began working its magic. The glass skyscraper suddenly appeared to be painted in a rich royal blue, and the statue clock was lit up in a glorious golden color.”
We recently caught up with Gong to learn more about him and his photography.
This is a seven-plus year photo project. Has any of it seen the light of day (pun intended) previously or have you waited this long to unveil it all for the first time?
“Besides limited private showings, this is the first time the whole series is being unveiled. In order to assemble a collection of images that can form a confident narrative, I often spend a few years to complete a series. This one took much longer due to the lighting condition it requires.
“Contrary to its name, blue hour lasts 20 minutes or less, and its occurrence and intensity are unpredictable, hence there were a few failed attempts behind each final image.”
Was Blue Hour shot entirely in New York? And what is it about the light/sunrises/sunsets in New York that you think are so unique?
“Seven out of nine images in the series are shot in New York, plus one in China, another in Germany.
“Being inside the concrete jungle of New York City, it is hard to find a place where you can actually watch the sunrise or sunset. That’s why New Yorkers celebrate Manhattanhenge twice a year, when you can stand on an east-west street of the grid and see the sun come up from or go down below the horizon.
“The density of the skyscrapers in New York City shortens the duration of the sunrise and sunset, at the same time it creates interesting shadows and highlights.
“The three rivers (Hudson, East, and Harlem River) surround Manhattan Island and the ocean to the east act as gigantic reflectors, combined with millions of artificial lights, an average sunrise or sunset elsewhere can be breathtaking in New York City.”
Tell us about the equipment you used to shoot the series? Any filters used?
“All images from the series were captured with Nikon D90, a reliable walk around camera. No filter was used.”
How has your Chinese ancestry affected your creative perspective/outlook on the world – if at all?
“Growing up in China, especially studying Chinese literature in college, has had great influence in my work. The Chinese poems that I can still recite are the ones able to tell a story in a few simple words, but are filled with emotion.
“Following the footsteps of those great poets, I am attempting to create visual poetry with photographs, and to capture the simplicity in a chaotic world.”
What do you consider to be the key ingredients/elements behind taking a great/timeless photo?
“In my opinion, a great photo should be able to tell a story from a photographer’s unique point of view, and evoke viewers’ emotion. In order to create such images, a photographer should plan ahead, not only on the subject, lighting, color, and contrast, but also on the narrative that the image is going to tell.”