White Night Melbourne has been a recurring event in the City Of Melbourne for several years now. As both a Melbournian and a photographer, I have always had an interest in the event but never ventured into the city to check it out. Traditionally carried out on a single night, the crowds were intense with the CBD shut down in part to traffic and crowds until early in the morning. So it never appealed to me. There are White Night events in other places now like regional areas such as Geelong and Ballarat. Other big cities have their own version too. So what is White Night?
White Night is an art exhibition where parts of the city are lit up with lights and projected images. Actors, dancers, acrobats and puppeteers all work together to create amazing light-based art exhibitions and experiences. Music and sound effects are a core element of the mood. Whole buildings are covered in projections that move and shift. In Melbourne this year, they have spread White Night over the three nights of the weekend. And the core exhibitions are set in three inner-city park precincts – Birrarung Marr, Treasury Gardens and the Carlton Gardens. But there is more. Some of Melbournes iconic buildings such as the National Gallery, State Library, Melbourne Museum and the Arts Centre Victoria are open late and have their own part to play in White Night.
So how did I come to be there? My mate The ORP (The Overrated Photographer) and a couple of other mates agreed to battle the crowds, traffic and the pending rainstorm. We met up on Spring Street at the top of the city on Spring Street at the Imperial Hotel. We all arrived at around 6:30pm and had a drink in the bar area while we waited for a table to be ready in the dining area. We sat and ate traditional pub meals and talked about all things photography, of course. Where we were located, we were basically in the middle of the three park precincts for the exhibitions. The rain had stopped, so we chose to make our way up Spring Street to the Carlton Gardens.
By this point, the crowds were well and truly gathering with police controlling traffic at the one pedestrian crossing we had to take to get into the gardens. The area was indeed pitch black with the exceptions of various exhibition and performance areas set out around the park. Here and their giant crystal-like forms would stick out from the ground in lit up clusters. The giant trees above were lit up in ever-changing colours. Kids walked with families holding multicoloured fairy floss on a lit-up stick. Bigger performance could be heard and seen in the distant reaches of the gardens and every now, and then a jet of steam would emerge, or a crowd would cheer in applause.
Some of the smaller exhibitions of lantern style creatures were placed near the ponds in the gardens to make the most of the reflections from the water. Other exhibits were roaming performers controlling giant puppets that soared above the crowd. This was one of my favourite performances. The giant angel-like figure was controlled by around eight puppeteers and a giant rig to support the creature. Preceding it were three smaller lit up angels gliding before it on Segways. The crowds lined the pathway with security moving onlookers back to make way for the performance.
From here, we made our way to what looked like a giant illuminated Buddha statue. We wedged our way into the crowd in time to watch its performance. The body was controlled by three puppeteers. Moving along to a repetitive thrum of music was quite mesmerising to watch. Its giant arms reached out meters wide, and its illuminated core would glow different colours throughout the performance. It was probably the highlight for me. One last piece we checked out was a giant lion-like creature sitting hulked over on one of the paths. It was again huge and created in such an incredible way to depict some sort of mythical beast.
We decided that it was time for a break and a refreshment. It was already 11:30pm – that five hour period flew by. I was footsore and tired and knew I had to get up early this morning. I made the tough decision to part way with the other guys and headed home. I knew that given the traffic and closed streets it could take some time to get back. Adam tried to convince me to stay for a beer, but my mind was set. After a coupled of failed attempts at Uber, I finally grabbed a taxi, and the ride home wasn’t too bad.
I certainly regret now my earlier decisions not to participate in White Night Melbourne in past years, as it was undoubtedly a fantastic event. One that was made even better by attending with a group of mates all set on getting that winning shot. It appears that the event organisers work hard each year to make the event one of the most unique events on Melbournes packed event calendar. And I only got to see one portion of it. You could easily spend a whole night exploring ALL of White Night Melbourne. From what we experienced, it was a safe, family-friendly and incredibly moving event. You still have tonight if you want to check it out. Happy shooting.