Listening to the Music of the Night

The City Visible

YUICHI HIBI moved to New York from Japan in 1987, when he was 22. He was an aspiring actor, but spoke no English. For him, the city was bleak, grimy and alienating, the New York of “Taxi Driver” and “Midnight Cowboy,” gritty films he had watched as a teenager in Japan. He spent many late nights sitting in bars, watching people and wanting to be seen as one of them.
Yuichi Hibi often photographed fellow denizens of the night

Yuichi Hibi often photographed fellow denizens of the night

In 1992, Mr. Hibi began walking the streets from midnight to dawn with a point-and-shoot camera, recording the Manhattan he had come to love. Intoxicated by the silence and the solitude of the night, he took marathon strolls in the city’s darkest corners, an activity that inspired in him a mental state akin to meditative ecstasy. His photographs of nighttime Manhattan capture the dreamlike romance of these all-night journeys.

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Mr. Hibi often photographed fellow denizens of the night: a man collecting cans in Herald Square, a woman walking her dog on Lexington Avenue, two men conversing at Grand Central Terminal. His images without people — a parking lot or a bus shelter — are illuminated by a street lamp or an advertisement, elements that bring human warmth to the shadowy streetscape.

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Mr. Hibi’s Manhattan has largely disappeared. “Those empty spaces, dark alleys and deserted streets are the victim of a brighter, reconstructed world that has lost its appeal for me,” he said recently in an e-mail message. “New York is beginning to resemble any other international city and has lost its edge, in spite of its breathtaking verticality.”

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Now an accomplished filmmaker, Mr. Hibi continues to take pictures. This fall, Nazraeli Press published “Neco” (“cat” in Japanese), an intensely observed and beautifully designed book that aims to capture the essence of the feline. He has not, however, taken a photograph of New York since 2002.

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