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Light Research @ MMU


FINALLY…. My book has now been published by Minnesota Press!! The contents provide in-depth analysis of many of the themes discussed on this blog within three distinct sections: daylight, illumination and darkness. More specifically, here is the chapter outline:

Part I. Light
1. Seeing with Landscape, Seeing with Light
2. Under the Dynamic Sky: Living and Creating with Light
Part II. Illumination
3. Electric Desire: Lighting the Vernacular and Illuminating Nostalgia
4. Caught in the Light: Power, Inequality, and Illumination
5. Festivals of Illumination: Painting and Playing with Light
6. Staging Atmosphere: Public Extravaganzas and Homely Designs
Part III. Dark
7. Nocturnes: Changing Meanings of Darkness
8. The Re-enchantment of Darkness: The Pleasures of Noir
Conclusion: The Novelty of Light and the Value of Darkness

The book can be accessed at

It’s reasonably priced!!

March 27th, 2017 - 03:40am

Light Touches: an innovative history of 19th century illumination

Alice Barnaby’s recently published book, Light Touches: Cultural Practices of Illumination, ( offers a fascinating, theoretically sophisticated and critical exploration of the development of 19th century light. By drawing on a remarkable range of examples, Alice demonstrates how the everyday world was dramatically transformed by the use of illumination and daylight, with the emergence of new materials, innovative designs and novel aesthetics. Yet rather than considering this as a top down process through which capitalists, scientists and bureaucrats dispensed illumination, people themselves were intimately involved in the evolution of new ways of presenting public space, their homes and their own bodies. In middle class homes, ladies of leisure experimented with new forms of painting that relied on light to produce transparent images. They also investigated the properties with muslin as a material with which to drape across windows, furniture and their own bodies, playing with its diaphanous qualities. Gin palaces and sites of amusement lured in visitors to enjoy the multiple reflections produced by new technologies that deployed mirrors, creating spaces of fascination, sociability and display, with their refracting shimmers and multiple reflections. People participated in illuminated patriotic, royalist and military celebrations, yet such occasions could be unruly, offering opportunities for violence and political protest before their later evolution into more peaceful events. And in developing a range of contesting aesthetics, artists and gallery owners initiated the use of daylighting to enchant the works they displayed. In drawing on a diverse array of theories and examples, Light Touches reveals that the radical transformation in sensory experience heralded by new techniques of illumination was not merely part of governmental systems of control and rationalisation nor generated by passively consumed spectacles. Instead, in working with the possibilities offered by these developments in illumination, ordinary people fully participated in the dramatic changes in how the world was perceived, produced and judged through experimentation, imaginative play and adaptation.

January 23rd, 2017 - 00:53am

Sunlight and the Landscape: Stanton Moor, Peak District

I am currently  writing a paper that focuses upon the manifold effects of the daylight and the ways in which this shapes the ways in whihc we perceive and understand landscape. This involved taking a walk across a raised area of moorland and woodland in England’s Peak District, Stanton Moor, taking photographs at each moment that the light seemed to transform the scene I beheld. In focusing upon this changing light and its interactions with the landscape – the ways in which light is reflected, absorbed and deflected – I aim to foreground the ways in which our eyes must constantly become attuned to these shifts, a topic that is rarely considered in our habitual engagement with the world. The walk around Stanton Moor produced an array of instances where the landscape and elements within suddenly became notable through the effects of the sunlight. There were areas of strong contrasts and prominent silhouettes, parts where green plants became vibrant in the sun’s rays, areas of shadow and gloom, lucid reflections in water, expansive and luminous skies, vividly illuminated cobwebs adorned with droplets, and dappled 5.Stanton bright leaves17.stanton.jewelswoods.

March 8th, 2016 - 14:57pm

The power of daylight: Spencer Finch and David Claerbout

Besides those artists who use artificial illumination in their art, it is also interesting to identify those drawn towards the daylight, like James Turrell.  Two artists whose shows I have recently seen are Spencer Finch and David Claerbout, both inspired by sunlight and its qualities. Spencer Finch recently exhibited at the Turner Contemporary Gallery in Margate, a seaside location in Kent, England, which inspired the great JMW Turner to paint its ever-changing skies. Indeed, the huge window on the seaward side of the gallery allows visitors to focus on these dynamic transitions themselves. Finch is fascinated by the interplay between light, colour and perception, and his work celebrates the ways in which colour continuously changes according to the light that falls on it.  Amongst the works in Margate was Passing Cloud (After Constable) (2014), a sculpture, made out of translucent fabric suspended from the ceiling that alters in transparency and opacity according to the light that fills the space from outside.

spencer finch1

In Back to Kansas (2013), Finch has replicated colours from scenes in The Wizard of Oz in a grid of painted squares that change their hue in response to the varying daylight, and ultimately to the whites, greys and blacks of twilight, revealing the dynamism of colours and our changing perceptions of them under different luminosities. Thank You Fog (2009) consists of 60 photographs arranged in a line at head height that frame exactly the same forest scene. Black to start with, the trees emerge periodically through gloom and fog and under changing light conditions, so we get a sense of how this scene changes from moment to moment

David Claerbout1In a different vein is David Claerbout’s The Quiet Shore (2011), recently shown at the Museum of Contemporary Art as part of this year’s Sydney Biennale The work is a 36-minute black-and-white film shot on the coast of Brittany, France, consisting of a sequence of still photographs. It includes numerous, luminous images of scenes of the smooth, wet, mirror-like surface of the beach. Like Finch, Claerbout celebrates the very distinctive forms of light that bestow distinctive qualities on places. But unlike the endless transformation conjured by Finch, he focuses on a particular time, on the stillness of the silvery water that produced such luminous effects towards the day’s end. The overwhelming beauty of this gleaming luminosity was intensified by the highly polished floor of the gallery room in which it was installed, doubling its power.

David Claerbout3

November 26th, 2014 - 13:34pm

The Light of the Antarctic

One of the key qualities of place is the quality of the light that falls upon it. Consider the ever-changing skies of the West Highlands of Scotland, or the cloudless skies and vibrant, toxic sunsets of Los Angeles. An exhibit at VIVID attempted to capture something of the legendary effects of the light in Antarctica, by drawing on the accounts from the 1911-14 expedition to map hitherto unknown areas of the icy continent, led by pioneer Australian explorer, Douglas Mawson. Mawson and his colleagues wax lyrical about the ever-changing light of this polar region which Mawson described as ‘a world of colour, brilliant and intensely pure’, despite the appalling privations they were forced to bear. The exhibit, Terra Incognita, devised by McDermott Baxter Light Art, a company run by Ruth McDermott and Ben Baxter, featured extracts from Mawson’s diary and other writings recorded in a voice-over, together with dramatic sequences of vibrantly coloured illumination lighting and sound effects to evoke the harsh yet beautiful landscape. Here are some of the wonderfully evocative archival extracts and images from the display:

terra Incognita 3

Powerless, one was in the spell of an all-enfolding wonder. The vast, solitary snow-land, cold-white under the sparkling star-gems; lustrous in the radiance of the southern lights; furrowed beneath the icy sweep of the wind. We had come to probe its mystery, we had hoped to reduce it to terms of science, but there was always the “indefinable” which held aloof, yet riveted our souls.

A calm morning in June, the sky is clear and the north ablaze with the colours of sunrise—or is it sunset? The air is delicious, and a cool waft comes down the glacier. A deep ultramarine, shading up into a soft purple hue, blends in a colour-scheme with the lilac plateau.

Terra Incognita lilac sm

The tranquillity of the water heightened the superb effects of this glacial world. Majestic tubular bergs whose crevices exhaled a vapourous azure; lofty spires, radiant turrets and splendid castles; honeycombed masses illumined by pale green light within whose fairy labyrinths the water washed and gurgled. Seals and penguins on magic gondolas were the silent denizens of this dreamy Venice. In the soft glamour of the midsummer midnight sun we were possessed of a rapturous wonder.

The liquid globe of sun has departed, but his glory still remains. Down from the zenith his colours descend through greenish-blue, yellowish-green, straw yellow, light terra-cotta to a diffuse brick-red; each reflected in the dull sheen of freezing sea. Out on the infinite horizon float icebergs in a mirage of mobile gold.

terra incognita2

At times the light was nimble, flinging itself about in rich waves, warming to dazzling yellow-green and rose. These were the nights when “curtains” hung festooned in the heavens, alive, rippling, dancing to the lilt of lightning music. Up from the horizon they would mount, forming a vortex overhead, soundless within the silence of the ether

While the wind rushed by at a maddening pace and stars flashed like jewels in a black sky, a glow of pale yellow light overspread the north-east horizon—the aurora. A rim of dark, stratus cloud was often visible below the light which brightened and diffused till it curved as a low arc across the sky.


Terra Incognita Aurora


June 18th, 2014 - 05:23am