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Light Research @ MMU

The soon-to-disappear lighthouse

Lighthouses have been a crucial  fixture in showing the safety of land to those at sea, often acting as a guiding light to the imperilled mariner. In times when very little illumination was perceptible after dark, it is now difficult to imagine the impact that the beam of the lighthouse would have had as it cut through the gloom. While most lighthouses are now automatically operated and still remain important in guiding ships at night, they have been supplemented by GPS and satellite technologies. In addition, they are increasingly the object of nostalgia, and serve as holiday homes, heritage sites and art galleries.  One lighth ouse on Denmark’s north west Skaggerrat coast has not got long to go. The tall Rubjerg Knude Lighthouse was first lit in 1900, was the home of three lighthouse keepers, and was once equipped with its own gasworks to fuel the illumination and foghorn. When it was first built, the lighthouse was 200 metres inland but over time, the sea has eroded the fragile cliffs and moved ever closer to the building. Simultaneously, the wind has blown the huge sand dunes that now surround and engulf the lighthouse, where formerly there were none. At times, these dunes obscured the landscape from the sea and muffled the sound of the foghorn, and in 1968, the lighthouse ceased to operate, subsequently hosting a museum devoted to explaining sand drift. Eventually, this also became susceptible to sand incursion and closed.swamped

The lighthouse now provides a compelling spectacle with its high white tower entirely surrounded by large dunes. The local authority has recently inaugurated a new staircase that allows visitors to climb to the top of the building to witness the dramatic scenery and pay homage to the lighthouse in its last few years. At present, a different form of light currently shines with the installation of a huge kaleidoscope that casts a dancing sea of light inside the tower as it reflects the sun’s rays, a ghostly reminder of the long extinguished, powerful beam that once cut across the sea. A wind powered prism catches natural light and reflects it down a mirror lined shaft around which the staircase winds. It is anticipated that this attraction will have a short lifespan, for the lighthouse is expected to succumb to tidal incursion by 2023.rujberg-kaliedoscope

 

 

 

September 22nd, 2016 - 08:55am

Night-time Factory Tourism in Japan

I wondered how long the tour would take that night. An hour, perhaps two I guessed. I was in Japan researching a phenomenon called Kojo Moe (factory love), a trend that had emerged after the publication in 2007 of a photo book, Kojo Moe-F Background Reference Book, on heavy industry. The book has a guide to viewing different types of factories, from chemical plants to steel works, cement works and gantry cranes. The tour that evening began, like others I had been on, at the city port. Night time factory viewing (Kojo Yakei) is usually done from the decks of a boat. Kojo Yakei forms a growing aspect of Japanese tourism, and private tour operators and city municipalities have developed a number of organised bus and boat tours to meet demand. Data compiled in 2014 by the Department of Civil Engineering at Kinki University in Osaka detailed 31 factory tours operating in 17 cities. The densest concentration of tours is, unsurprisingly, in the Kanto region that encompasses the heavily industrialized coastal zones of Yokohama and Kawasaki. The tours can sell out for months in advance. When I had enquired at JNTOs (Japan National Tourism Organizations) in Tokyo City about visiting industrial sites, I was given a list of museums of technology and industry. As a foreigner, I am not the target audience for these tours. Kojo Yakei is marketed at Japanese city-dwellers and participants are mainly groups of young Japanese women and then some older men.

KY_HO1

Kojo Yakei is promoted as a social experience, a night-out, and not as an educational or informational tour.  Some cruises provide buffet dinners, others cocktails. What they all offer is a spectacle. An alternate son et lumière to the neon and electric cityscape.  At night security lights, office lights, portacabin lights and perimeter lights illuminate industrial megastructures on a Blade Runner scale. Smoke rising from chimney stacks adds to the effect. On one boat tour in March it snowed but we still stood out on the deck trying to take as many photos as possible. Kojo Yakei offers what we in the West call the industrial sublime and on these nights I am factory struck (not love struck or star struck).

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The boats tend to slow down and stop opposite particularly well-lit structures (sometimes accompanied by clapping and cheering) before bypassing dark factories for another illuminated colossus. It is difficult to take good photographs from a rocking, moving boat in low light. I spent much time on the first few tours experimenting with different camera settings and these sets of photos are mostly light strobed images or blurry shots. Very few take serious camera kit on these tours, but the boats slow down to enable participants to take photos, as best they can, with their smart phones, or to capture a factory selfie. The photography is an important element of the social experience of the tour. I plan to take photographs from the shore of the Kojo Yakei boats going past, lit up by the cabin light and the flickers of light from smartphones.

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Most boat tours take an hour. However, a boat and bus tour around Himeji city was four hours long. The bus pulled up opposite a spectacular chemical plant and we spent around 20 minutes taking photographs through the wire fencing. The plant next door was in darkness and no one was paying it any attention. I strolled down the road the short distance to take a look at it. The bus driver must have noticed my interest for when I returned to the group he said to me ‘we have asked them to put their lights on for us.’ An examination of the relationship between the factories and the tour operators forms part of my future research plans.

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Hilary Orange, UCL Institute of Archaeology, h.orange@ucl.ac.uk

January 23rd, 2015 - 13:30pm

The illuminated magic of the fairground: Sydney’s Luna Park

Despite the many charms of VIVID, for me, the most affecting light display in Sydney has been attracting residents of the city to play on the North shore of the Harbour Bridge since the 1930s. Luna Park contains reproductions of the designs from this era as well as some original features. Luna Park Face

Unlike so many traditional pleasure gardens and amusement parks that have been made over and extinguished the original features, Luna Park conveys a powerful sense of the atmosphere, allure and aesthetics that held sway in the golden age of funfairs, and captures some of the magic of illumination that earlier twentieth century urbanites must have experienced, as the city was transformed by light from a dark realm into an enchanted, uncanny phantasmagoria. Luna Park - roundabout

In his magisterial book, Disenchanted Night: The Industrialisation of Light in the Nineteenth Century. (1988), Wolfgang Schivelbusch argues that the late years of the 19thcentury to the early years of the 20th century saw a broad shift from a lighting of order to a lighting of festivity.  Such festive lighting was exemplified at theme parks such as at Coney Island where, as Gary Cross describes (in his paper ‘Crowds and leisure: thinking comparatively across the 20th century’, Journal of Social History 9(3): 631-650, 2006), ‘(the original) Luna Park and Dreamland created a dazzling architectural fantasy of towers domes and minarets, outlined by electric lights, giving these strange oriental shapes an even more mysterious and magical air at night’. Luna Park - Coney Island Funny Land

The art deco entrance to Sydney’s Luna Park, comprising two towers that border a huge face with a giant mouth through which people entered, was constructed in 1935, and has been remodelled several times due to the damaging effects of sea spray and rain. The present design derives from 1995 and is a replica of the original. Other fantasy fairground design features spread throughout the park, notably the fabulous Funny Land, a survivor from 1935 and a fabulous and rare example of a funhouse from that era.Luna Park - Funny land detail - Popeye

June 7th, 2014 - 06:19am

Blackpool Illuminations archive

I have spent a wonderful day at the Blackpool Illuminations archive, located at the depot in the town. A Heritage Lottery Funding was secured to archive the extraordinary range of posters, designs and plans that stretch back to the 1920s, and the work going on to catalogue this resource underlines the shifts in design practice, themes and tastes that have been deployed, but also the continuities that resonate through displays of different eras. See their fabulous and evolving blog : http://illuminationscollection.wordpress.com/

Celebrity designer Laurence Llewellyn Bowen emphasises in his preface to a recent book on the Illuminations that, ‘restraint, straight-laced good taste aesthetics and minimalism are your sworn design enemies. To work, Blackpool Illuminations have to be high kicking, showbiz, jazz hands and more than a little “nudge nudge, wink wink” Terms no-one ever teaches you at art school’*. Yet tensions between good taste, and popular jollity and brashness, have surfaced in the town  at various times. The many exquisite designs of the art deco influenced 1930s were intended to create a cutting edge tastefulness, an approach that resonated with other architectural innovations during that period (see the ship design). A more inclusive, irreverent approach to designs drawn from popular culture emerged in the 1960s and has continued (as in the image ‘Fright Night’), yet there are periodic attempts to introduce more artful (and ‘tasteful’) installations as part of this annual two month extravaganza of light. This variety is what contributes to the continuing glory  of the display.

* Vanessa Toulmin (2012) Blackpool Illuminations: The Greatest Free Show on Earth

1930s ship   Fright night 1990s

October 30th, 2013 - 18:12pm

Katy Paterson’s Streetlight Storm

Katy Paterson’s 2009 Streetlight Storm makes the lights on Deal Pier in Kent (England) flicker each time lightning strikes the Earth’s surface. About this work Paterson comments:

I am interested in the way the ordinary and the otherworldly intersect, and much of my work uses everyday technologies from doorbells to record players and connecting with vast and intangible phenomena such as dying stars and the moon. I hope the work’s universal content will ignite the imagination of many“.

Although many people might only encounter thunderstorms a few times a year, lightning is an extremely common occurrence on a global scale, with an estimated 1.6 billion strikes per year, mainly concentrated in equatorial areas.

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April 13th, 2013 - 22:28pm

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