Sarah M. Lee: Tender are the Nighthawks


14 April - 10 June, 2023


Closing Event: Sarah M. Lee, 'In Conversation'      6.30pm, Thursday, 1 June 2023

In the final weeks of “Tender are the Nighthawks”, we invite the photographer Sarah M. Lee to talk about her series with Sonoko Nakanishi, programme curator at Aperture Gallery.
This event has finished. Thank you to those who attended.


Untitled, October 2017, Camden Town. From "Tender are the Nighthawks".
© Sarah M. Lee


“Tender are the Nighthawks” was a photographic exhibition by London-based Sarah M. Lee, the well-known Guardian and Observer photographer covering portraiture, features and the arts since 2000. Sarah’s work has also appeared in many other places, including the covers of AnOther Magazine, Billboard, Intelligent Life, Prospect Magazine, Rolling Stone, The Sunday Times, TIME Magazine and Vanity Fair. Clients include Apple, Leica, Transport for London and Visa. Away from commercial work, she is an official BAFTA photographer. 


Untitled, October 2017, Camden Town. From "Tender are the Nighthawks".
© Sarah M. Lee


I'm a night owl and rather than feel I'm wasting the post-midnight hours when I should be sleeping, I decided a few years ago to start a series that would make a virtue rather than a vice of my topsy-turvy circadian rhythms.

Tender are the Nighthawks focuses on that strange liminal time when the city pivots between its late-night and early-morning identity. All these images centre round the final journey of the day. People are shot candidly either on buses or waiting for transport. But there is no sense that they are heading out into the city, rather they are all, I suspect, going home. Or if not home, then to the place where they will have the rest that punctuates their days. I was interested in this side of London, a city where I've lived for over a quarter of a century.

All images are shot on a Leica rangefinder and using a 50mm 1.4 lens. I like working within strict parameters when I'm doing a personal series. And this setup requires quite a lot of nerve and bravery. I'm close to the subjects. I', holding the camera to my eye (accurate focusing is essential in such low light and with such a wide-open aperture). I always operate from a position of "it's better to ask for forgiveness than permission". As a lone woman on the streets of a city like London in the middle of the night this requires a lot of nerve, but then so does living in a relentless fast-paced and vital city such as London.   

Sarah M. Lee











Untitled, July 2018, Camden Town. From "Tender are the Nighthawks".
© Sarah M. Lee



"Two-hour party people: the very-late-night Londoners," The Guardian, 17 April 2023.


Sarah M. Lee

Lee studied English Literature at University College London (UCL) in the late 1990s and used the time not spent in libraries to train herself as a photographer.
She was offered a freelance position at the Guardian in 2000, and has continued to work for the Guardian and Observer ever since. Sarah specialises in portraiture, features and the Arts but is interested in all photography that focuses on people, and our shared human experience.
Her work has appeared in many publications and places, including the covers of TIME magazine, Weekend , LFI & Billboard and in the covers of Rolling Stone, The Sunday Times, Intelligent Life, AnOther Magazine and Vanity Fair. Lord Richard Rogers' practice 'Rogers Stirk Harbour and Partners' has also been a regular client. Recent commercial clients have included Leica, Visa, Apple and Transport for London.
Lee is currently working on an extensive long term project on the urban American experience (working title: "Sidewalk America") with the writer, novelist and broadcaster Laura Barton as well as a long-term feature work "West of West" in California which was published as a hardback by Unbound in Early 2020.
Lee is an official BAFTA Photographer and an official Ambassador for Leica Camera. She is a fellow of the British American Project, and also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.
She was the 2019 European judge for Apple's Shot on an Iphone Challenge.
She lives in London with her husband and their dog. Loved ones, friends and photography aside, nothing gives her more pleasure than the long and endlessly humbling process of learning to surf.

For more information on Sarah M. Lee, please visit her website and Instagram: / @sarahmlee47


Print sales

All of the photographs in the exhibition are for sale as C-type print on Fujifilm Pearl Pro Plus 290gsm in different edition numbers and sizes, with Artist Proofs also available. Please make an inquiry at [email protected] for further details.