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Photographing the “endless diversity” of America by streetlight

British photographer Daniel Freeman travelled more than 25,000 miles (40,000km) across the US to capture scenes of small towns lit only by streetlights, shop fronts and moonlight.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

Over the past decade, Freeman has made frequent trips to the US to take night-time shots to capture the “charm” of small American towns, culminating in his new photobook Midnight on Main.

He estimates that he has spent a total of between eight and 12 months on the road in his pursuit of atmospheric urban night scenes.

“The night offers a calm, uninterrupted contemplation of these places, a slowing of time that cannot be found during the busyness of the daylight hours,” he explains.

“I am also struck by the eerie relevance the empty streets have in the context of the current pandemic.

“Under lockdown, the scenes take on a slightly different meaning – a reminder of the previous ease and freedom of travel, and a speculative future record of how things looked when lockdown hit and people stayed [at] home.”

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

Freeman prefers not to disclose the location of each shot so that the photographs portray a “generic” vision and representation of small-town America.

“In order to maintain the accuracy, realism and integrity of the scenes, all photographs are lit entirely by the light that is present at the location: streetlights, storefronts, and on a small handful of occasions, a little moonlight,” he says.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“These cross-country trips were born of a compulsion to visit the America that has so heavily influenced me most my life.

“The sheer vastness of the country means I never tire of travelling it.

“For me, the draw of America is the endless diversity from state to state.

“Many share ‘region-defined’ characteristics, but nonetheless, each has its own quirk, charm and importance.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“I am for ever fascinated by buildings which exhibit their former lives publicly, like medals, while at the same time housing contemporary ventures.

“With untold stories and secrets, they often boast a stoic charm that despite the best attempts of architects, just cannot be replicated in modern structures.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“Birthday shout-outs (seen above) where the whole town likely knows the faces behind the names broadcast, add to that warm, close-knit, small-town feel that is coveted by many.

“But they also serve to make the lonesome traveller very aware of their outsider status when passing through.

“People are rarely present when I am photographing at night, but on the odd occasion they are, I never include them.

“I want the locations to spark the narrative, with human presence and impact implied rather than being physically present to influence and distract.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“Some days I cover a mere 30 miles, others a few hundred. But I always take the smaller roads and back routes.

“The beauty in covering so many miles is watching the changing landscapes as they rise from the horizon, sit aside and fall behind.

“Sometimes these changes are subtle and at other times it is as if crossing the state line is equivalent to entering a new country altogether.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“I find myself drawn to older buildings in a town – those often repurposed to house modern franchises, or left as slowly crumbling reminders of a bygone era – somebody’s demised ‘American Dream’ from ages past.

“There is character in the old, a charm that many modern buildings fail to replicate.

“Vintage signage is another attraction for me, and whether in the form of neon signs or faded paint over weathered brickwork, there is something personable and definitively small-town about family names and friendly instructions adorning the architecture of downtown.

“I feel a subconscious sense of responsibility to honour these visuals that are becoming so synonymous with the iconic yesteryear America.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“Many of these beautiful towns carry within their architecture a heavy historical presence.

“As I stood photographing on the street in the image above, I visualised generations of families and couples queuing outside to be entertained by the latest features.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“Certain structures stand out in the night, like an archaic reminder to anyone passing at such an unearthly hour, that they were around long before you and yours, and will likely outlive your kin.

“In the image above, there appeared to be sections of buildings torn down from around the two buildings, but they stood strong and defiant, like an elderly couple who knew nothing else but each other’s company.

“Nocturnal conversations [with passers-by] are often among the most surreal, with an obscure breadth of topics covered in usually only a short amount of time.

“But for all the discussions about alien abductions, conspiracies, (and normal subjects as well), I am lucky that I have never met anybody who was ultimately anything other than polite to me.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“I have an unabating love for the night sky.

“Towns nearer larger metropolises often have views of the stars marred by nearby light pollution.

“But others reveal beautiful vistas of the night sky void of interference.

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

“The more I travel America, the more I love it.

“I am often asked if I have a favourite state, but I can honestly say that every time I visit I end up with another list of towns and states that have charmed me.”

image copyrightDaniel Freeman

Midnight on Main is published by Hatje Cantz.

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