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Light Research @ MMU

Blackpool Illuminations

Blackpool Illuminations celebrated its centenary in 2012 and to mark the occasion, developed a range of new features.

Blackpool remains Britain’s most popular holiday resort, despite a gradual decline in visitor numbers over the past four decades, a continuing popularity indicated by the more than three million visitors to the autumnal event, Blackpool’s Illuminations. Following earlier experiments, in the 1920s the display was established to extend the traditional holiday season and has remained an annual institution ever since, war and rationing permitting. Each year, the Illuminations run throught September and October. Extending for nearly six miles along the sea front, the varied mix of illuminations includes more than 500 scenic designs and features lasers, neon, fibre optics, LEDs, the world’s largest mirrorball, searchlights and floodlighting. image004Illuminated designs attached to roadside lamposts form successive themes, lighting picks out landmarks such as the Tower, illuminated trams glide alongside the promenade, and large, animated tableaux flash and pulsate.

The designs are diverse in their animation, colour and form, and the different icons, motifs, forms and styles that have varied throughout the past century constitute an astonishing range of changing tastes and trends in British popular culture. Though enormously diverse, common themes include celebrity, film and television, myth, the ‘exotic’, modernity, toys, folk tales and nursery rhythms, Blackpool scenes, nature, glamour, national identity, science fiction, historical scenes and the supernatural. What is remarkable about Blackpool is that in an era of contracting out services and competitive tendering, it remains a largely locally produced and funded display – although celebrity designer Laurence Llewellyn-Bowen has had substantial creative input in recent years.image002 Illuminations are designed at the depot by people who understand the particular tastes of visitors and the traditions that make the lights so distinctive. This means that the Illuminations sidestep ‘cool’ trends and fashions that install a sense of sameness elsewhere. The millions who come to Blackpool tend to follow longstanding family traditions of visiting the resort, their excited behaviour contributes to the unique, convivial atmosphere during the Illuminations. We consider Blackpool Illuminations to be a fabulous example of the power of illumination to produce a strong sense of place and a space of excitement, despite it being overlooked by most taste-makers, perhaps like the lights of the fairground and the Christmas Lights referred to elsewhere.

February 18th, 2013 - 13:31pm

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