Many night photographers like to work in dark locations, far away from city street lights. Someday I hope to be so famous that I'll be able to call up the mayor of any city in the United States and request that they shut off the power to the entire city for a hours so that I can get that once-in-a-lifetime full moon illumination of downtown sites.
But until that happens, I'll have to be satisfied with the occasional city-wide power outage (which only seem to happen under stormy skies).
But, what if you had the opportunity to shoot downtown night after night with not artificial light?
Bill Brandt had that opportunity in London during WWII. Brandt was German photographer who lived most of his life in Britain. He worked from the 1930's through the 1960's, producing some landmark work of British society and distored, black-and-white nudes. But his most interesting work was done at night under cover of the mandatory black-outs.
During WWII, radar was in its infancy, and satellite tracking systems such as GPS did not exist. Bombing pilots had to be able to see their targets, so the British government required all lights to be turned off at night. That included building lights, street lights, headlights and house lights. My grandmother remembered how the goverment even delivered thick, black curtains to everyone in London in order block the glow of gas lanterns inside the house. Imagine that: the entire city of London in total darkness... night after night.
Possibly inspired by Brassai's night photographs of Paris, Bill Brandt produced a series of seedy night photographs in A Night in London (1938), which can be had for little more than the price of a full-frame DSLR. A few years later, during WWII, Brandt seized the opportunity and produced some amazing photographs of bombed out London at night, such as St Paul's Cathedral in the Moonlight (above).
I've never seen a real copy of A Night in London. And the photo above is the only shot from the book that I've ever seen in reprint. If anyone has any links to more photos from this book (or, if anyone actually has this book), please let me know.