Over 100 years apart, the similarities are striking.
The first story is of urban historian and pioneering documentary photographer Eugène Atget in the early 1900s “working alone in all the old streets of Old Paris.” He walked by himself in the wee hours, through empty streets and past unpeopled cafes, capturing beautifully stark black and white photos of Parisian architecture before it was lost to modernization.
The second story is of Singapore-born Brian Lau, a modern photographer, who’s building an international clientele. Armed with a Canon 6D Mark II, with a 24–105mm f4 lens, Lau is also walking alone before dawn, but through old Hollywood. Then heading up into Griffith Park, where a star like James Dean shot Rebel Without a Cause, and then traveling out to Santa Monica, photographing empty buildings, boulevards, and deserted beach scenes.
Atget once remarked that once he’d completed photographing Paris’ urban architecture from the 16th to the 19th centuries, he’d created an “enormous artistic and documentary collection” inspiring him to suggest, “I can say that I possess all of Old Paris.”
Atget also spoke about finding and photographing the truth beneath surfaces. Similarly, Lau suggests that a “great shot comes from a feeling of authenticity” adding, “Personally, black and white photos invoke drama and a sense of rawness to an image because you really are only looking at the subject and the frame. Which ties back to the concept of finding authenticity in an image — when we’re not covering up anything and then true beauty shines through.”
Lau’s own growing black and white Hollywood/Los Angeles collection captures familiar tourist sights that appear vividly different before dawn with no people about. It’s like he’s possessing a different side to the City of Angels, just as Atget found another more stripped down side of the City of Lights.
Photographer Lau initially began working for Multifolds, a premier wedding photography company in Singapore. Since then he has been developing a wide range of clientele around the world, along with setting up his own company “Still.Brian Photography.”
And, he’s even been expanding his black and white portfolio into eye-opening portraiture. But his black and white scenic photography continues to offer challenges he loves. Those shots, so far, include: the Hollywood Walk of Fame, along with the famous El Capitan and Chinese Theaters, all sans tourists; an unoccupied Griffith Observatory looking down to DTLA where architect Frank Gehry’s Disney Hall shines metallic grey against a black/white sky backdrop; several shots of L.A.’s famous piers, including the Santa Monica Pier, with empty seats on the carousel; and, ritzy Rodeo Drive, quietly unadorned, without color and pretty ladies and their big shopping bags.
Lau excitedly explains:
“I love playing with this concept of creating my own narratives. Colors can be distracting, but stripped of them, not a lot of images, be they moving or still, can hold the viewer’s attention, these days. As a photographer, black and white photos also challenge our technical skills. Just because the colors are stripped away, there’s a whole spectrum of grey that stands between black and white. That varying degrees of grey is what creates the contrast in these images so it is always an exciting challenge creating these alternate images.”
When Lau first visited California, to study photography at the LA campus of the New York Film Academy, he came up with this image of a satellite called “Voyager” an entity arriving on foreign shore, a stranger in a strange land. As a result, his photographing of Los Angeles was inspired by Eugène Atget’s documentation of the empty streets of Paris, along with his own “feelings of loneliness being a foreigner who literally plucked their entire life up away from the comforts of home.”
Being in L.A, Lau was fascinated by the hugely dense and populated tourist locations — Hollywood Boulevard, Rodeo Drive, Santa Monica, and Universal City Walk. And then it came to him:
“So, marrying the two schools of thoughts — of Atget catching amazing images of empty streets and then me being alone in LA — I decided to visit these locations at the break of dawn. What I found was these vastly empty spaces that told their own stories. The term ‘space’ then popped up in my head while I was reflecting on life and how growing up in Singapore, I always mistook a floating satellite for a star. With stars being synonymous with celebrities in L.A., the narrative then kind of lined up. I was this floating satellite that stumbled into the land of stars even though it was so populated. I still felt alone in this vast space, traveling to these known spots that were supposedly filled with life. But what I found was a sense of emptiness. And as a satellite relaying it’s message back to ground control, I wanted to document this feeling in this space and let others know that they are not alone.”
And, what a job he’s been doing.
But, while he’s working on his own black/white collection, Lau’s international client roster is also growing, including: shooting behind-the-scene stills for indie and short films like Happy Thanksgiving and Table for 4 which have been selected for film festivals like the “LA Shorts International Film Festival” while two more films, Mr. Strange and The Graduation Speech, use Lau’s images to create their posters; creating the content that Chinese fashion brand Xhibition uses for its social media mainly “Tik Tok”; he’s also working with exciting companies looking to expand into the U.S, including UB+, a new speaker brand, and Populife, an innovative wireless lockbox; and, has worked with dynamic Lithuanian actress Simonna, creating content for her social media, while working with her for the upcoming movie Mirroring Michael Jackson.