This Photographer Captures the Dark Side of New York Restaurants—Literally

Daniel Soares’ Neon Nights series puts food businesses in a whole new light

By Katherine Whittaker

Published on February 18, 2017

By day, New York's Chinatown can be overwhelming. Produce vendors crowd overloaded sidewalks full of people sidestepping bags of trash and gawking tourists, running from one store to the next.

But visit at night and it all changes.

Daniel Soares, a New York-based filmmaker, has found the magic hour, when time seems to stand still and the hectic air of the day has dissipated. “It’s that time in Chinatown when people start closing their stores and delivery people are unloading trucks,” he said. The initial draw, he said, came from his curiosity—each trip showed him a new part of the neighborhood, whether it was a hidden alley or a store he hadn't noticed before. The darkness helps to transform this part of the city too; as Soares points out, "It highlights the beautiful things and turns off the ugliness."

The visual allure comes from the neon lights that blare menus and restaurant names into the streets. "All these lights are very New York, you know? That's another thing that I find really interesting. I'm not from here, I've been here for almost four years, but when you're from somewhere else, you see beauty where the people who live there don't," explained Soares. There's a rawness to it that drew him in the first time, and that's what eventually brought him to the food, as he started to eat in the places he'd photograph.

Because Soares shoots these scenes at night, there are fewer people obscuring storefronts, giving him a much more clear photo than he would get in daylight, but he doesn't try to cut them out altogether. Their stories become part of the photo, and Soares finds himself asking, "What are they going for in the store? What are they buying, what’s their life like? Why are they grabbing cigarettes at midnight?"

His project has now expanded to Chinese restaurants in other parts of New York, as well as bodegas in Brooklyn and Queens, but his favorite place to shoot is still the Chinatown in Manhattan. "I’m still exploring Chinatown. For example, yesterday I was walking there just for dinner, not to take photos. I was looking at all these places, and it’s just like I already know all these storefronts, how they look at 7 p.m., 8 p.m., and then at midnight they look different."

Check out some of his series below, and see more on Instagram.

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