Alleys & Ruins no. 1, Electric Sky (1991, Montreal, QC, 10pm)

Alleys & Ruins no. 1 was shot in September of 1991 - the first image in the series was shot before I knew I was developing a cohesive body of urban decay shot at night.

By 1991 I was shooting a lot at night and I already knew that out-of-the-way urban areas (the more decrepit the better) were drawing me like a magnet. Electric Sky is not the first run-down urban decay I shot at night, but I think it’s the first where I somehow managed to elevate a downtrodden, even banal urban scene into something almost magical and spiritual and uplifting - the complete opposite of what seemed the reality of the actual scene.

I didn’t know why I was doing this at the time, and I certainly didn’t have a series planned. It wasn’t until the summer of 1993 that I had the required epiphany. Once I came to recognize the vision that I had been dancing around for so many years, the series took off. That summer was the true beginning of the series.

I was drawn to areas where people don’t go, inside a busy, loud city – they were small, grungy oases, where it was quiet and where I felt comfortable. And there I would be, surrounded by incredibly stimulating newness – stuff you wouldn’t see anywhere else but in places society shunned. Since they were barely, if at all maintained, the scars left by the elements (including the weather and people) only accumulated, making them more and more interesting the older they were.

I needed a lot of time to myself, and I needed to take pictures. The perfect solution was to walk down dark alleys alone with my camera at night.

Okay, there were some obvious flaws with this solution! So after a year of this, and after a half dozen scares, I started asking friends to come along and watch my back. I’m grateful to the many, many people who have been foolish enough to assist me over the years (haha!) – no, I truly am grateful!!

The series has evolved over time. In the late 1990’s I started bringing lighting equipment and colored gels. I would use my lights sparingly, but year after year my images had more and more of my light. In 1997 I switched to a 120mm Hasselblad camera – a big upgrade from the 35mm Nikon I had been using, resulting in incredibly sharp and detailed images. In 2004 I found myself in a position where I could sustain myself through my art alone. I stopped doing the commercial photography that had been my bread and butter, and this allowed me to travel extensively, adding dozens of new cities to the body of work.

But the heart of the series has always been my drive to dignify the places, and by extension, the people who are cast away. By transforming these locations into theatrical sets (made way easier when I started bringing lights!), I have always tried to create a stage without players, leaving it up to the viewer to create their own characters and drama, and hoping that ultimately the viewer feels compelled to step into the scene themselves, as I did 25 years ago.

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Xavier Nuez

319 N. Albany Ave, Studio 1N5

Chicago, IL 60640

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