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Light Research @ MMU

Urban Lighting, Light Pollution and Society

urban lighting, light pollution and societyA recently published book, Urban Lighting, Light Pollution and Society, has been edited by Josiane Meier, Ute Hasenöhrl, Katharina Krause and Merle Pottharst. All four were members of the interdisciplinary Loss of the Night research collaboration, and are based at the Department of Urban and Regional Planning at the Technical University of Berlin and at the Leibniz-Institute for Regional Development and Structural Planning in Erkner. This fabulous volume focuses upon urban lighting and light pollution from a social sciences and humanities perspective. It highlights current debates, among them ways in which light pollution might be defined and may be alleviated by emergent technologies and policies. Highly recommended.

January 16th, 2015 - 16:37pm

Picturing the dynamics of urban lightscapes

Posted by Josiane Meier

Urban lighting generally seems to be a rather static affair: When night falls, the lights are switched on – and when dawn rises, they go off. However, given that there is not only one switch for a city’s lights, but rather a whole array of larger and smaller switches and dials, it’s worth asking whether this simple and synchronised “on-off-on-off” is really what’s happening. Are there differences in rhythm and schedule between public and private lighting, between street lights, architectural illuminations and neon signs, between the lights in different parts of a city? And, if so: What determines their dynamics?

In order to gain insights into this largely uncharted territory, we are assembling and analysing a growing collection of time lapse videos. Each video portrays one night in one of Berlin’s urban centres – places that are hotspots of day- and night-time activity and that are typically expected & accepted to be especially bright. Composed of over 1.000 individual images each, and furnished with time stamps, the videos make it possible to observe what happens with individual light sources as the night progresses. The camera’s positioning and settings are kept identical, thereby allowing for the comparison of levels of brightness within and between locations.time lapse Breitscheidplatz

time lapse Alexanderplatz

Three of the locations have been portrayed in early summer nights – Alexanderplatz, Potsdamer Platz and Hackescher Markt – to allow for comparability, while one – Breitscheidplatz – is shown in the winter holiday season, providing a glimpse at the special case of festive lighting.

One thing quickly becomes very clear when viewing the videos: Urban lightscapes are not static at all – they change significantly throughout the night. It is interesting to note that there are places with a considerably more or less pronounced dynamic. The lights at Hackescher Markt, in particular, don’t change much at all in comparison to those of Alexanderplatz or Potsdamer Platz. Remarkably, the level of brightness at Hackescher Markt also appears to be significantly lower than at the other two locations – both in our videos and in a bird’s eye view of Berlin at night – despite various indicators pointing toward it being the place in this comparison that sees the most activity during the night.

time lapse Hackescher-Mkt  time lapse Potsdamer-Platz

Differences between various types of light sources are also becoming apparent. For example, public street lights and the illumination of public transport stations stay on throughout the night in all cases. Architectural illumination and lit advertisements, on the other hand, often go out in the small hours – some remain off, while others relight in the early morning. There are, however, significant exceptions: The dome of the IMAX cinema at Potsdamer Platz or the steeple of the Memorial Church at Breitscheidplatz remain brightly lit all night long. The assortment of seasonal lights visible in the Breitscheidplatz time lapse follows a variety of rhythms: While the Christmas market’s lights go off at around 10:15 pm, the adornments along the street only go out at 12:15 am, and the construction crane’s decoration remains lit all night.

Overall, it has become very evident that the how, when and why of our illuminated nights is not at all clear-cut: Far from being static or homogenous, they are an amalgamation of many different actors’ actions and logics, and their dynamics are worth investigating as much as the motives behind them.

December 18th, 2014 - 13:51pm

Dreams and Imagination: Light in the Modern City , Monash Gallery of Art

Melissa Miles from Monash University, Melbourne has curated an exhibition, running at  Monash Gallery of Art until 1 March 2015: http://www.mga.org.au/exhibition/view/exhibition/164.

Dreams and Imagination: Light in the Modern City focuses on the special role of light in stimulating imagination in Australian photography, and for envisioning modern cities as places of dreams and wonder. As a technology of light and of modernity, photography proved an ideal medium for imaging Australian cities. Photographers including Harold Cazneaux, Max Dupain, David Moore, Olive Cotton and Mark Strizic, used their cameras to revel in the magic of sunlight and artificial illumination in cities, and drew upon different metaphors of light to represent their ambitions for Australian modernity or express disenchantment with its failings.

strizic-mark-flinders-lane_555

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Mark Strizic, Flinders Lane, 1967, 1967 gelatin silver print; 37.0 x 37.0 cm,  Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection (donated by the Bowness Family through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008, MGA 2008.110; courtesy of the Estate of Mark Strizic)

The early to mid twentieth century was a period of gradual change in Australian cities and photography alike. Australians did not experience modernisation as a dramatic revolution or a sudden wave of change, as it was experienced in parts of Europe. Mass-production manufacturing industries were not a significant part of the Australian economy until after the Second World War, and skyscrapers did not reshape the city skyline until the early 1960s. Such European and American conceptions of modernity as a dramatic sense of the new displacing the old, were experienced in Australia as a kind of expectation or immanence rather than a sudden shift.

 

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Max Dupain, Mosman Bay at dusk, 1937, gelatin silver print, 49.6 x 32.6 cm, Monash Gallery of Art, City of Monash Collection (donated by James Mollison AO through the Australian Government’s Cultural Gifts Program 2008, MGA 2008.006)

This sense of immanence and gradual change is reflected in the diversity of photographic styles used to represent cities, from the hazy light and fuzzy effects associated with Pictorialist photography to the crisp sharp lines of modernism. During the 1930s and 40s, members of an older generation of Australian photographers, including the Pictorialists Cazneaux and George Morris, were responding to their urban experiences alongside younger generations linked to modernist and new documentary practices, such as Dupain and Cotton. The exhibition reveals how photographers utilized light, shadow and artificial illumination to enrich and enliven their imagery in ways that often transcended neat stylistic categories.

Melissa has a related book coming out next year, The Language of Light and Dark: Light and Place in Australian Photography: http://www.mqup.ca/language-of-light-and-dark–the-products-9780773545502.php

December 11th, 2014 - 13:24pm

Queueing for the dark

Posted by Katharina Gabriel

Institut für Public Health und Pflegeforschung, Universität Bremen, katharina.gabriel@uni-bremen.de

In this day and age there are hardly any places in our neighbourhood unaffected by artificial light at night. Whenever in need we turn light on as a matter of course. Darkness has become rare in our everyday life but as we don’t miss it we don’t realize.

Within the interdisciplinary research project “Verlust der Nacht” (“Loss of the Night” – www.verlustdernacht.de), we investigated the reasons for brightening the night by artificial light, as well as its consequences for animals and humans. As a project coordinator, one of my tasks was to raise people’s awareness about light pollution.Logo_VdN_neg

For the project’s open day we developed a ‘Room of Darkness’ to solicit experiences of senses other than vision for visitors. We prepared boxes for touching and boxes for smelling. Those for touching provided material of different textures such as pebbles, balloons, the bark of a horse chestnut tree, screw nuts and flakes of polystyrene. Those for smelling provided scents of coffee, lemon, basil and nutmeg. We excluded anything wet, ugly or potentially allergenic. We eliminated all sources of light with the exception of one single faint light source for security – enough for scotopic vision. After two of us had adapted our eyes to the gloom, groups of 10 to 15 people: – families, friends, couples – entered. After finding a place within the room, the door was closed and they were welcomed with a short speech about humans being day active creatures whose strongest sense for orientation is vision. In the absence of light we feel unsure and thus tend to brighten the night. However, we have other senses that can be deployed for orientation, such as hearing. Instinctively, visitors followed the speaker’s voice with their head, and sharing this observation surprised them! We then invited them to test their other senses.

In the boxes for smelling, coffee was obvious; even little children identified the right box when asked to point it out. Nutmeg and basil, however, could conjure up associated foods. Instead of ‘basil’, visitors referred to ‘tomato and mozzarella’, and instead of ‘nutmeg’, they identified ‘mashed potatoes’ – both dishes commonly flavoured with these herbs and spices! In the boxes for touching, the first challenge was to overcome the timidity that restrained people from plunging their hands inside. Most of the contents were easy to distinguish. For the screw nuts we accepted ‘pearls’ as correct answer from children, though men often answered “M8” – the correct name of the item in terms of the size of diameter, testifying to the habitual, sensual knowledge of the handyman!L

After a while the children started to run around – their eyes able to adapt more quickly to the darkness than those of the adults. However, most visitors’ eyesight adapted towards the end of the session (after 10 to 12 minutes). Occasionally, we were asked, whether we had switched on some light. Only seniors lacked the ability to visually adapt. Conversation arose about eye physiology with its rods and cones, resulting in photopic and scotopic vision. Sometimes blindness and the natural options for orientation were discussed as well as options in the built environment.

We offered the ‘Room of Darkness’ over three years and it was always well attended. I learned that in peak times people had waited in line for two rounds – to experience of darkness again they had queued for more than half an hour…

 

November 12th, 2014 - 12:49pm

Sex work, liminality and light

Posted by Mary Laing, Northumbria University

I really enjoyed reading Emily Bowe’s blog entry: Massage parlours: an alternative Blackpool illuminations (http://www.lightresearch.mmu.ac.uk/massage-parlours-an-alternative-blackpool-illuminations-posted-on-behalf-of-emily-bowes). The post appealed to me on a number of levels; initially because I grew up not too far from Blackpool, and regularly as a child and later as an adult, made the trip to walk along the prom to see the illuminations and to eat hot salty chips with a wooden fork, through gloved fingers.

chips at the illuminations

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Photo: Chips at the ‘luminations  (Image with permission of Ed Gibney, 2012)

But also, it interested me because like Emily, I have recently started to think about spaces of sex work in terms of their illumination (or lack of). I have visited the window districts of Antwerp and Amsterdam, the massage parlours of Manchester as well as the heady night-time sex spaces of Bangkok, and my memories of these spaces centre on the colourful neon signs lighting up the night; they contrast starkly with the ‘gloomier’ and less illuminated spaces of street sex work I have visited in Manchester, Liverpool and Vancouver. Indeed, spaces of sexual commerce are traditionally depicted to ‘come alive’ at night-time, and the night has long been (re)presented as an appropriate play-scape for those seeking transgressive and sexual pleasures in the city

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I intend to collaborate with artist Gloria Ronchi (http://www.axisweb.org/p/gloriaronchi/), whose practice uses light as a medium to create immersive art spaces, Alessandra Mondin (University of Sunderland) and visual anthropologist Michael Atkins on a project exploring themes of sex work, liminality and light.  Throughout the residency we will consult with sex workers and other experts and work towards the creation of a public art space to explore these themes. We will ask questions like: how does light affect access to different spaces (physical, digital and psychological; private and public) and why? How does the (lack of) illumination of public spaces influence the affective experiences of those spaces? Levels of light and darkness provoke ‘affective and emotional resonances, cajoling bodies into movement, activating passions, instigating sensual pleasures and discomfort’ (Edensor, 2013: 456), so how does this subtle balance affect the ambiguity of red light landscapes? And, how are concepts of sexuality reinforced, challenged, or subverted through the dark?  Through the work we will seek to develop a more nuanced, corporeal, sensate and visceral reading of sex work and commercially sexed spaces. We hope it will develop unique and original insights, whilst challenging public perceptions of sex work through art.

November 3rd, 2014 - 11:38am

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