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Tom Blachford's New Midnight Modern Photos

A striking photo series capturing architecture in Palm Springs, lit only by a full moon with the help of an unusual tool

by David Graver
on 12 February 2015

Debuting during Palm Springs Modernism Week 2015 (a 10-day cultural event celebrating mid-century modern design, architecture, fashion and culture), photography exhibition "Midnight Modern" captures the sublime essence of lunar illumination. Melbourne, Australia-based photographer Tom Blachford captured a series of time-defying images, focused on the marriage of architecture and nature under the full moon. From striking composition to otherworldly coloration, each large-scale image—a continuation of a series he developed a year back—lives in a near-dream world. And yet, first and foremost, the series of images is a documentation of reality.

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"The series started kind of by accident in 2013, on our first trip to Palm Springs," Blachford shares with CH. "My girlfriend and I were there for a day and a half and we ran out of time to shoot. I had this feeling that what we were seeing had been shot in so many ways already. It was kind of paralyzing to think about shooting in a unique way." After Blachford ran out of daylight, he began to explore by night. It happened to be a full moon. "We went out to a suburb that I really liked. I set up a tripod and took one photo. The result was pretty amazing. We shot a bit more stuff that night, but left and came home to Australia. I was kind of haunted by the shots and wanted to take more." Blachford soon returned and continued his work by the light of the super moon—without permission, sleuthing around.

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He went on to exhibit this round of work and with critical reception quite high, he reached out to the Palm Springs Modern Committee, and its president Chris Menrad. Menrad offered Blachford astounding access to the community, and this next series of images was born in November 2014—manipulation of interior lighting, the addition of automobiles, and a step inside one of the most iconic Palm Springs backyards. "It's hard to come across an original idea, yet these houses have been there for 70 years. The moon has been there for billions of years. It's amazing to me that nobody has shot like this before," Blachford says. The young photographer manages to tackle a popular area of inspiration with a renewed sense of wonder.

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There's very little manipulation of the captured images. "Getting focus is the hard part because you can barely see—and the camera can barely see," Blachford continues. "I came up with a new system. I went and bought a military spec green laser. I would shine that on the house for a second and grab focus." After landing the composition and capturing the image, all Blachford does is apply a little contrast. "They don't really need much post. I try not to remove anything; power lines or air-conditioners. I try to keep them as they are."

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Blachford sees this as a bottomless series. "There are so many beautiful houses there. The conditions and moments change as the moon changes. I think I am always drawn to go back and keep shooting." Additionally, he notes, "It developed to a really nice point—from people thinking of me creeping around the streets to everyone being really into it."

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As for overall artistic inspiration, he says, "I am not a creative who wakes in the night with searing visions that I need to create. I find myself responding to the environment and finding new ways to show things that have been [done] many times before—a new light or a new perspective that shows things in a different way." This body of work does stand out from Blachford's other endeavors, such as his aerial photography, but it has driven him to capture more architecture and even interiors. As he makes clear, despite the near-accidental nature of Midnight Modern's inception, the subject matter does ignite a sense of passion within him.

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"Midnight Modern" will be on view 20 February 2015, in a one-of-a-kind showcase within the Menrad Residence in Palm Springs, CA—a home that Blachford documented in the series. Tickets to the event are available for purchase online at $35 per person.

Images courtesy of Tom Blachford

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