William Gedney: Watching America At Night (1960-1973)

“Once upon a time there was a pretty fly. He had a pretty wife, this pretty fly. But one day she flew away, flew away. She had two pretty children, but one night these two pretty children flew away, flew away, into the sky, into the moon.”

– Night of the Hunter, 1955



A sense of expectation pervades William Gedney’s photographs of houses at night in his native America. As with George Ault’s paintings, our eyes become accustomed to the light so that in the slightly abstracted stillness and quiet the vision seems sharper, clearer and more intense.

Night, after all, is when the magic happens, when the monsters and spirits awaken, and the mind wonders from the rational and sane towards the anxious and dreaming. At night you begin to imagine and see with the mind’s eye. So night, a time when we see less, is seemingly so rich and fizzing with life in Gedney’s pictures.

But what are we looking at? Unlike Edward Hopper’s Nighthawks, we’re not looking in at the light, in the painter’s case that collection of individuals inside a cafe at night. No light burns inside Gedney’s houses to illuminate the scene. We see no hint of what’s inside. So why is he there? He’s not a voyeur. He’s surely not casing the joint.

It might about the house itself, the architecture of America at night. Houses and rooms are the stuff of dreams, of Freudian symbolism. The home is our haven, wherein we hide and seek ourselves behind closed doors in different rooms. So we look on and wonder. There’s mystery and a touch of scariness in these photographs, in which the big American cars add a dash of haunting.


William Gedney night

William Gedney night


Gedney (October 29, 1932 – June 23, 1989) died in 1989, aged 56, in New York City and was buried in Greenville, New York, near his childhood home. He left his photographs and writings to his lifelong friend Lee Friedlander.


William Gedney night

William Gedney night

 William Gedney night William Gedney night William Gedney night William Gedney night


Via:  William Gedney Collection at Duke University’s David M. Rubenstein Rare Book & Manuscript Library.


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