What would the world’s largest metropolitan areas look like if illuminated only by the light of the stars? That’s difficult to imagine, given the unyielding relationship between cities and their plethora of lights. But, French photographer Thierry Cohen has done just that. Cohen worries that intense urbanization has spawned generations of people who are too detached from the natural world. He feels a city-bred individual “forgets and no longer understands nature.”
Light pollution has become a serious concern in recent years. Before, no one really gave much thought to the ill effects of so many artificial sources of light. City skies have become virtually empty of stars. The International Dark-Sky Association, founded in 1988, works to preserve the integrity of the night sky by advocating for fewer lights and more practical usage of those that are necessary. Their efforts are paying off. In 2002, the Czech Republic became the first country to enact legislation to eliminate light pollution.
Three years ago Cohen embarked on an ambitious project to help city dwellers realize what they’re missing. He traveled to some of the world’s largest cities and photographed them during the day; meticulously recording the time, angle, latitude and longitude of the shot. Then, he journeyed to remote deserts and plains at corresponding latitudes and pointed his lens to the night sky. New York City, for example, parallels with the Black Rock Desert in Nevada; for Hong Kong, it’s the Western Sahara in Africa; for São Paulo, it’s the Atacama Desert in Chile; and for Cohen’s native Paris, it’s the prairies of northern Montana. Cohen then manipulated the photographs to create composites of the cities and their skyscapes.
The results are magnificent. Observers don’t see a skyline as in a fantasy or a dream, but rather as it should be seen. And, in the end, hopefully they’ll begin to think about more their environment.