Raquel Garcia Masterfully Captures Cardiff by Night

The sun sets on Cardiff, Wales. Raquel Garcia leaves her home, camera and tripod in hand.

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As dusk turns into night, Garcia spies the steeple of a church. What remaining ambient light there is, quickly dissipating, perfectly backlights the gothic silhouette. What authority the church may have once commanded is deflected by the fog. The red brick and corrugated metal of the suburban street’s strip of semi-detacheds feel little of its presence. A few minutes earlier the scene would be perfectly ordinary, hardly deserving even a first glance on a commuter’s journey home. A few minutes later the steeple will be indistinguishable from the black night, leaving no trace of its commanding, domineering glory.

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“A lot of photographers focus on finding amazing places for taking amazing photos.” Their art is a practice of discovery and recording. Their impression comes from recreating the beauty in the world, with much attention, dedication, and expertise.” But not Garcia, “What attracts me more is taking photos in residential areas, and the ordinariness of it.” Garcia’s photography is a practice of mastering her immediate surroundings. She takes that which actively avoids being eye-catching, fascinating, breathtaking, and accepts the challenge of making it photographic. Garcia takes it upon herself to remind us to pay attention to the ordinary. In this image, she divines mystery from a boulevard that will be heavily trafficked in a few hours’ time.

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Luckily, nowhere is more ordinary than Cardiff. Garcia’s scenes are exemplary depictions of middle-class Briton life. This photo, taken at Foundry Close, looks like it could have been taken at Privet Drive, two and a half hours east. It is the best of this particular series, and in this viewer’s opinion among the most striking of her oeuvre. Twin suns illuminate the scene, but leave everything a cold and eerie blue. A small green twinkle hides in the background, covering itself with the perfect camouflage: unremarkability. To the average late-working commuter, this scene doesn’t deserve even looking up from the pavement. Garcia is the one who stops.

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Merely months ago, Garcia would not have turned to night photography to indulge the ordinary. She points to Elsa Bleda as the source of that particular inspiration. Bleda dazzles with neonized views of Johannesburg at night. This particular image, less foggy and with a greater range of colours of a more nostalgic air, most resembles Bleda’s vision. However, it was not the images themselves which drove Garcia to experiment with long exposures, empty streets, and artificial suns. It was her fear for her fellow photographer. Rightly so: Johannesburg is a very dangerous city. Bleda conquers unlit urban streets, thirty seconds at a time. “So I decided to rebel against my fears. In cities that are supposed to be safe everybody should feel allowed to walk in their own neighbourhood no matter the time. It’s not about not being careful, but about being free to walk on the streets of your own city without fear.”

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Having moved from Barcelona to Cardiff, Garcia found the perfect opportunity to explore her new surroundings. She casts a fresh gaze on the slumbering community and unearths extra-ordinary sights. Garcia’s art may be limited by the additional limitations that night photography installs, like requiring a tripod. Based on these photographs, it is more likely that her escapades serve to elevate her art by eliminating the single most pervasive element across all photography: the reliance on natural, ambient white light. Garcia is dependent on found light, and she rightly lets her beacons guide her, and us, to sights unseen for the suffocating radiance of the day. This is the defining characteristic of Garcia’s Cardiff.

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“I also love working with low shutter speeds, it gives you more control of the light. It’s really interesting how places change at night, when I walk around the same places in daylight they seem unrecognisable. So I love the sensation of creating a parallel world of these ordinary environments and make them interesting. Searching peculiar spots, often not interesting, ordinary, ugly spaces and then transforming them into captivating, interesting, mysterious, attractive images. You end up owning the place and giving your own vision of it, your own surreal reality.”

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Working in a parallel world all her own, Garcia can work uninterrupted by daytime inhabitants. It is an alien world, unknown to most, obscured by fog, illuminated sporadically by spectral lights dull and bright. It is atmospheric, and lonely, but despite her fears and precautions, none of that villainy comes through the image. Camera in hand, Garcia masters her fear, her surroundings, and her light. Free from these paradigms, Garcia views her subjects objectively, and suggests interpretations alternate to those imposed by ordinary light.

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This photograph best exemplifies “the sensation of creating a parallel world” which Garcia seeks from night photography. She stumbles upon an image identical to a scene we have all witnessed, but twisted entirely. For one full third of the day, this street turns into an alien operating table, spotlights directing their examining light at every angle of the prostrate road. Garcia takes advantage of modern bright streetlights, often lamented for replacing the warm, yellow-scented light that has been a mainstay of photography, to reveal a very different atmosphere.

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Even the rising sun has an analogue in this lonely alternate world she has discovered in Cardiff (of all places). To see more how Raquel Garcia shocks her mind out of its sleepy perceptiveness to learn a different kind of ordinary, visit her Instagram. For an added element of appreciation of her work, she supplies a song to play with each image.

Interview (1)

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