The man who has been, in his own words, ''cutting up the dark'' in sublime photos of Whangārei street art at night would rather stay behind the lens.

He says just call him Shadows_Surgeon, he would rather the exposure was kept for his photos. Yes, slight pun there.

''The pseudonym is driven by the nature of what I do. It's very carefully, thoroughly thought out and executed - and it allows me to use the title "Cutting up the Dark" for my exhibition.''

Mural artist Bryce Williams made his mark on Port Rd.
Mural artist Bryce Williams made his mark on Port Rd.

Well, if Banksie can do it Shadows_Surgeon it is, or S_S to keep things simple without destroying the mystery.

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And when you see his work, it is evident mystique is something S_S revels in.

Where is that unknown urbanism on the edge of a beguilingly lit, splendidly artful, achingly empty street scape? Really, that's Whangārei?

Well cut in Bank St.
Well cut in Bank St.

For a while now he has been turning streetscapes into cut jewels with his camera, using a slow speed and massive LED torch but was inspired to build on the theme after the much-lauded Street Prints mural event in Whangārei in February, "Tuia te muka Tangata - Weaving the threads of Humanity".

Scene on Kamo Rd
Scene on Kamo Rd
Scene on Kamo Rd.
Scene on Kamo Rd.

As well as doing his own thing artistically, he wanted to show those murals in another light, so to speak.

His exhibition (Instagram and Facebook @shadows_surgeon) includes those 16 murals but there are many more bold and fascinating images in his collection, some of the scenes having been around town for a while.

''I knew there was lots of street art but, holy s***, even I didn't realise there was so much once I went looking for it.''

He is grateful to the ''informer network'' which alerts him to new views or angles he might have missed himself.

Pride of place on Whangarei Police Station.
Pride of place on Whangarei Police Station.

S_S is currently working on a project he was invited to do for the website, Mapping the Outdoor Art of New Zealand. He's discovering the joys of three D artworks, photographing sculptures around Whangārei.

Capturing the look - whether its murals, street scenes, flash cars or sculptures - means he has to be clinically efficient.

Well toned Lower Dent St.
Well toned Lower Dent St.

In his imagery of normally busy places seemingly abandoned at night, the only people in the scenes are those painted in the murals, and few passing cars.

''Yes, there are, you just can't see them,'' he said. ''Usually, I'm right in the piece. I'm physically there, but I only show up as a slight blur in some of them.''

While he's taking those 30-plus second exposures from the camera on a tripod, he's walking around with his powerful LED torch to flood light in stages across the scene.

That's how he gets the sharpness, cuts through the dark.

Spotlight on Hikurangi.
Spotlight on Hikurangi.

Cars have passed and are long gone before the slow shutter speed ends. So, he's possibly a traffic hazard?

''I don't believe so,'' he laughs. ''Usually I'm right there in plain view, holding a very strong light. And it is after hours, there's not a lot of traffic.''

There is more after hours surgery by way of ''heavy editing'', such as adjusting colour saturation to remove the orange-ish effect of sodium street lighting.

''And there is some selective masking in the images.''

Spotlight on Hikurangi.
Spotlight on Hikurangi.

He snorts at — but admit he also quite likes — the suggestion some of his images could be visual metaphors taken from heartache/homesick/gotta-get-out-town kind of alt-country music. Or 1980s arthouse movies.

He's delighted by, and takes as a compliment, the response he often gets along the lines of: ''Wow, I never this knew this city could look so beautiful (vibrant, strange solitary, alien, muralesque , etc).''

He has changed up the art, given it a complete new setting and definition in his night timeframe. But he doesn't care about the images on the wall, per se.

''I wasn't interested in the art itself, but in the art in place .''

Street life.
Street life.