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Empty London: Do you think he saw us this time?
December 30, 2011 3:03 PM   Subscribe

Empty London on Christmas morning (full set). A couple of years ago I had the idea that it might be fun to take photos of London without humans – yes, I was motivated by that scene in Westminster from 28 Days Later. Unfortunately, not being a film director I was not really in the position to have half of London sealed off for photos – but realised that on Xmas morning there could be an opportunity. Past photos from 2010 and from 2008.

For the third — and judging by my track record of being ill at Xmas — the last time, I got up early and walked into central London to hire a bike and cycle around taking photos of the city minus its human population.

Well, almost deserted, and by 10am, while still incredibly empty, most of the main areas had people walking around enjoying the atmosphere of a silent city.

Apart from the emptiness of the city, it is the silence that makes the experience such an addictive one for me.

London is never silent, not even at 3am, but on Xmas morning, it is almost silent. The background drone of aircraft approaching Heathrow has gone, and away from main roads, the streets lack the sound of car tyres rolling over tarmac.
posted by ersatz (19 comments total) 19 users marked this as a favorite

 
So cool. This is one of my most favorite things about Christmas - the complete peace and silence, the stoppage of all the go-go-go.

I think it has started getting busier and busier, with more businesses open and people running about, but it still retains some of that special feeling.
posted by Miko at 3:14 PM on December 30, 2011 [2 favorites]


POST 111111 HOORAY CONGRATZ ERSATZ!!

I had a vague recollection that Danny Boyle also didn't have anything sealed off but had to resort to small windows of opportunity at early hours of dawn where no one just happened to be at a given area. But I may have misunderstood and in any case I haven't been to London so I can't say if that's really even plausible to begin with.
posted by Anything at 3:29 PM on December 30, 2011


That fantastic 1971 post-apocalyptic Charleton Heston movie, The Omega Man, was filmed in the same manner early Sunday mornings in Los Angeles.
posted by 2bucksplus at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


Very nice.
posted by caddis at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2011


Thanks very much--I love Cities in the early morning and on Holidays.
posted by rmhsinc at 3:36 PM on December 30, 2011


A couple of years ago I was in central London in the morning of New Years Day. It was real post-apocalyptic stuff for a couple of hours.
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:38 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


I had a vague recollection that Danny Boyle also didn't have anything sealed off but had to resort to small windows of opportunity at early hours of dawn where no one just happened to be at a given area.

He had volunteers at the end of streets asking the few people who were about (a few post-club stragglers) if they would not mind waiting a few minutes while the finished the shot (as he could not legally shut the streets)
posted by fearfulsymmetry at 3:40 PM on December 30, 2011


One of my favourite times in any city is in the early morning before people are out and about. One of the things I like about Berkeley is that that 'early morning' emptiness goes to about 10 o'clock on the weekends. Minneapolis, too, to a certain extent, but it ends earlier.
posted by hoyland at 3:41 PM on December 30, 2011


A couple of years ago I was in central London in the morning of New Years Day. It was real post-apocalyptic stuff for a couple of hours.

Same for me in Berlin three years ago. Literally no people, just mountains of empty beer and wine bottles. And a lot of discarded clothing.
posted by mannequito at 3:55 PM on December 30, 2011


He had volunteers at the end of streets asking the few people who were about (a few post-club stragglers) if they would not mind waiting a few minutes while the finished the shot (as he could not legally shut the streets)

I read an interview where he claimed that he had assistants who were pretty young women working traffic detail, under the rationale that the delivery drivers would be more inclined to cooperate with/sit tight and chat with them.
posted by Mayor Curley at 4:49 PM on December 30, 2011


If you look at the first generation of Daguerretypes of city scenes, they nearly always looked like empty cities, except with a bit of blurring on roads. That was because the exposure time was something like 10 minutes.

There's a famous one in which a man was having his boot shined. You can't see the guy doing the shining, but the customer stood still for nearly the entire exposure time, and he is thought to be the very first person to have had his photograph taken.

The early photographers learned some tricks. For instance, if you wanted to take pictures of ships in the harbor, you did it at low tide. The ships would ground out and stop moving.

I was thinking you might be able to do the same thing for this -- use very slow film, and crank the aperture really tight, and use a dark filter on the lense, and expose it for about two minutes, but you'd still see blurring where people and cars went by. It wouldn't look as good as these did.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:51 PM on December 30, 2011


I've done shots (for fun) by taking video with a stable base and then creating a still image by taking the median value of each pixel. This is better than a long time exposure, but only works if for every pixel there is not someone there more than 50% of the time. I'd bet with some sort of interactive tool you could improve on this process.
posted by RobotVoodooPower at 5:01 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


There were some pictures recently of apparently deserted LA freeways, which were done by the photographer take multiple exposures over the space of a few minutes and then erasing out the cars, leaving only the pavement underneath. Since the cars were in different positions in each picture, eventually you have the entire road surface exposed. And there you have it: Busy freeways with no cars on them.
posted by jscalzi at 7:03 PM on December 30, 2011


Didn't someone do this in... some South American city during the World Cup? It was neat, as are these!
posted by BungaDunga at 8:08 PM on December 30, 2011


I've done shots (for fun) by taking video with a stable base and then creating a still image by taking the median value of each pixel. This is better than a long time exposure, but only works if for every pixel there is not someone there more than 50% of the time. I'd bet with some sort of interactive tool you could improve on this process.

I think you'd want the mode, not the median.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 8:41 PM on December 30, 2011 [1 favorite]


mannequito: "Same for me in Berlin three years ago. Literally no people, just mountains of empty beer and wine bottles. And a lot of discarded clothing."

Get rid of the empty bottles and that sounds like Night of the Comet.
posted by deborah at 10:30 PM on December 30, 2011


Rats. In my last comment, the final line is supposed to be unindented. Sorry about that.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 4:47 AM on December 31, 2011


This is weird. I've lived in London for 15 years but never actually spent Christmas Day in London until this year.

So I insisted that Mrs MM drive with me into London so we could experience the novelty of empty roads and having the centre of London to ourselves.

We left at 10am and were parked up by Lambeth Bridge 15 minutes later, having encountered a surprising amount of cars on the road. And then we walked along the river, across Westminster Bridge, up Whitehall and to Trafalgar Square. Tons of people. Tourists mainly, but tons of people the whole way along.

In fact, I was laughing at this post because I've spent the past few days marvelling at what a myth it is that London is deserted on Christmas Day.

In summary: sure, London is deserted at 6am on Xmas morning. But definitely not at 10am. And you can find some very deserted streets in the City of London on any given Sunday.

Cool photos though.
posted by MuffinMan at 6:47 AM on December 31, 2011 [1 favorite]


Those photos just need a few Daleks roaming around.
posted by Rarebit Fiend at 8:24 AM on January 6, 2012


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