The resort city of Palm Springs, California, is known for its vast collection of "Desert Modern" homes, those midcentury stunners with flat rooflines, expansive windows, and sparkling pools that were once favored as vacation pads for the likes of Frank Sinatra and Truman Capote. So when Australian photographer Tom Blachford got to visit Palm Springs for the first time in April 2013, he was determined to capture the area's iconic architecture. Under Palm Springs' invariable blue skies and scorching sun, Blachford struggled to photograph the buildings in a way that no one has seen before. Serendipitously after dinner one night, however, Blachford finally found his inspiration under a full moon. The resulting photo series, called Midnight Modern, strikingly captures each architectural gem in eerie moonlight, as if the whole place was a life-size terrarium.
After Blachford got his first shots of the houses under moonlight, he was so pleasantly surprised by the effect that he booked a second trip to Palm Springs for this past July, just in time for a "supermoon," the phenomenon where a full or new moon is at the closest point to Earth in its orbit. Blatchford built on the series with additional shots of tract houses that were blessed with mountainous backdrops. With experimentation, he found that buildings with little to no interior lighting worked the best. And as it happens, he had picked an older suburb that conveniently lacked any overhead streetlights, which would have definitely ruined the pitch-black moonlit effect. Most of the exposure times were 30 seconds, but it took a full minute for the Swiss-Miss chalet-style houses to catch some moon glow under their precipitous roofs.
Blachford hopes that, aside from just having a visual impact, the photographs will also invite viewers to time travel a bit and fill in the narrative behind closed doors. "Each one has seen parties, brawls and countless other events over its life," he told Wired. "If these walls could talk they would put even the most scandalous and stylish moments of Mad Men to shame."
In an interview with Modern Times, a Melbourne art and furniture store that recently exhibited the photo series, Blachford said he'd love to work with moonlight again, potentially exploring a different style of architecture, such as the stilt houses in northern Australia. But Blachford isn't done with Palm Springs just yet. In a few weeks, he'll return to the desert resort for a third time, working closely with the Palm Springs Modern Committee, a nonprofit dedicated to preserving the area's architectural heritage. His goal? Gaining access to the rear of the houses.
He writes in an email, "My dream is to get the pool shot facing the mountains on the Kauffmann/Neutra house, so we will see how I go with that."