REVIEW by Kaite O'Reilly

NWR Issue 99

Cardiff After Dark

by Maciej Dakowicz

‘They look like images you might find in some depressing police dossier. Here, in vivid detail, is a squalid portrait of binge-drinking Britain.’ Or so said Robert Hardman of the Daily Mail in autumn 2011 when Maciej Dakowicz’s candid photos of Cardiff’s nightlife appeared to great acclaim at Perignan’s International Festival of Photojournalism.

Already a viral hit as Cardiff at Night, the images opened the floodgates of disapproval from certain quarters, chastising the ‘foreign lens’ (Dakowicz is Polish) capturing ‘the shaming images that turned Britain into a laughing stock’, as the xenophobic [IDaily Mail] headline ran. Debates about the ‘state of Britain’ and the ethics of photographing inebriated people without their permission raged forth, as though there was no Google Street View or the ubiquitous CCTV camera on every bus or corner. From the furore that ensued it would be easy to believe street photography was a new phenomenon.

Except Cardiff After Dark (published by Thames & Hudson) is part of a long tradition, arguably going back to Marville’s 1860s street scenes, with illustrious exponents including Atget, Stieglitz, Cartier-Bresson, Frank, and Arbus, among others along the way.

And all this palaver without even considering the quality of the photographs…. They’re good. Some are very, very good. The scenarios are familiar to anyone who has swung their beads on Caroline Street (as my old Grangetown neighbour used to say), or sauntered through St Mary’s High Street after kicking-out time over the weekend. The excess and carnage is all so depressingly familiar that were it not for the quality of the images, and Dakowicz’s five-year dedication to catching that elusive moment, the extraordinary, ephemeral chance juxtaposition of place and people, the project could easily be dismissed as gratuitous or tabloid.

For there is plenty of rude fare here: cocks and blow-up dolls, builder’s cleavage, genitals exposed with a sly, Lothario grin. Breasts are groped, bare buttocks slapped; the air seems to shimmer with the raw dynamic of a city at adult play...

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