Flicking through the pages in art director and photographer Liam Wong’s new book After Dark, which is soon to be published by crowdfunding platform Volume, an endless stream of cinema and video game references come to mind – Blade Runner, Enter The Void, Drive (or most of Nicolas Winding Refn’s filmography), and Cyberpunk 2077, to name but a few. The urban sprawl, the shadowy streets and, of course, the neon lighting, remind us of the futuristic, occasionally seminal titles that popularised this aesthetic. Since Blade Runner established this claustrophobic vision of what was to come in 1982, it has become impossible to see the fluorescent signage and dark alleyways of cities like Tokyo and not feel as though we are looking into the future. And though these now occupy a real place in the world, their presence on-screen and on-page continue to feel more like virtual creations in a video game than physical spaces on Earth.
Interestingly, Liam is no stranger to the fictional world of video games. After graduating from Abertay University in Scotland, where he was born, he moved to Canada to join renowned video game publisher Ubisoft, becoming its youngest-ever director. There, he worked on games such as Crysis and Far Cry, honing his skills in world-building and art direction. In the background, his sideline interest in photography was growing and before long he was working on his first monograph. Titled TO:KY:OO, the book sought to capture the beauty of nighttime in Japan’s capital and drew heavily on genres such as sci-fi, neon-noir, cyberpunk, and Japanese anime. Liam also leaned on his time at Ubisoft, which shaped the way he views the world through a lens.
His knack for finding and creating beauty is evident in After Dark as well. Throughout, we can observe how Liam is able to photograph a city in such a way that it feels truly his own, a product of his imagination. This time around, Liam has ventured further afield. “With After Dark, I widen my lens beyond Tokyo and explore the phenomenon of urban loneliness, finding moments of isolation in cities after midnight,” he explains. Composed of a mix of cityscapes, candid portraits, and shots of the ever-present neon lights, the series gives us a sense of life in the city after-hours. The locations include London, Paris, Rome, Hong Kong, Chongqing, Seoul, Osaka, Kyoto and, of course, his beloved Tokyo. He even looks for these moments in his hometown of Edinburgh, wandering the foggy streets of the historical city.
The design of the book itself is a tribute to both the things that connect these geographically distant metropolises and the things that separate them. “My vision for this book has been to surprise the viewer as they turn the page, grouping photographs by theme and subject, showing how different yet similar [the cities] are,” says Liam. The stillness of the urban streets and the solitary figures, which evoke feelings of isolation, is a thread that connects all of these images, yet the book’s panoramic format allows each city to display its unique architecture and geographical features – from the iconic wide junctions of Tokyo to the vast waters of London’s River Thames. A shot of a salaryman waiting on an empty platform at Akihabara Station – one of Liam’s favourite images in the book – has been framed so that the verticality of the nearby electronics store, which is one of the world’s largest, is able to be appreciated in full.
This type of cinematic framing recurs throughout the book, corresponding with common film ratios (2.39:1, 1.85:1, 16:9 and 4:3). It’s a fitting design choice, given the history of cinema that After Dark draws upon, and it solidifies the feeling of surreality that pervades much of Liam’s photography. We can’t help but feel that, even though these streets are real, there’s an element of fantasy at work. Like the bustling cities that occupy so many of the films and video games that come to mind when we look at these images, it’s easy to forget that these are not cities of the future, but cities of the present.
Liam Wong: After Dark (Copyright © Liam Wong, 2021)
About the Author
Daniel joined It’s Nice That as an editorial assistant in February 2019 and continues to work with us on a freelance basis. He graduated from Kingston University with a degree in Journalism in 2015. He is also co-founder and editor of SWIM, an annual art and photography publication.