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Light Research @ MMU

Massage parlours: an alternative Blackpool Illuminations (posted on behalf of Emily Bowes)

During my current research into the impacts of living in close proximity to the massage parlours of Blackpool, I have become very interested in perceptions (both of residents and my own) of the various ways in which the parlours are illuminated.   While they are used for obvious purposes of advertising and to provide safety, this lighting also has other effects. Often described as located in the more ‘lonely’ streets of Blackpool, ‘where even the pigeons don’t frequent’ (interviews with residents), these massage parlours are constantly – and sometimes vibrantly – illuminated.  The ‘red’ of ‘red-light district’ is seemingly absent here. Contrary to the specific stereotyping of ‘red’ associated with areas of sex work, these establishments use a variety of different colours and style of lighting that vary widely in luminosity.  From white to neon blue or pink, from Victorian-style table lamps to illuminated barbed wire lights, the lightscape is extremely diverse and temporally fluid, with some establishments changing these features monthly, weekly and sometimes daily.  This might reflect crackdowns on the parlours’ visibility by local authority gatekeepers but for me, this constant, fluctuating illumination allows individual expression as well as the longevity of some of these businesses.

tabooThe lights also effectively consolidate Blackpool’s reputation as a leisure and pleasure resort with which the illumination is inextricably linked.  Furthermore, the lighting also represents somewhat of a sanctuary.   At night, while spending time here (where I also grew up), these streets are often rather isolated and people usually use them as thoroughfares.  Despite the nationwide economic recession, such establishments have been relatively successful. Thus the lights indicate that people are present in these otherwise quiet areas, and that some businesses are at least open and functioning. Moreover, they paradoxically reinforce the insider-outsider dichotomy often associated with conflicts around the usage of public space. The lighting draws ‘outsiders’ in visually and physically (there is a desire to walk towards them, to look beyond the exterior illumination into the interior) and yet there is a simultaneous desire to not look, and not be seen as a voyeur by the businesses or anybody else.

March 7th, 2013 - 16:24pm