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Light Research @ MMU

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:

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.
















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.













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:–the-products-9780773545502.php

December 11th, 2014 - 13:24pm

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

Trees at VIVID: @DrHG on #VividSydney: trees and bushland

 The Qantas air steward said, ‘You must go to Vivid Sydney – the city is all lit up’. So on the first evening I took the train to Circular Quay and the Harbour. Wow. The Opera House, an off-white colour in the daytime, was transformed by reds, greens, blacks, animal prints… I am in Australia researching enthusiasm for trees and I’ve just finished reading a paper by Jodi Frawley (‘Campaigning for street trees, Sydney Botanic Gardens, 1890s–1920s’, Environment and History, 15(3): 303–22) about campaigning for street trees in Sydney Botanic Gardens in the 1890s–1920s. There is a fascinating history of trees in Sydney as a means of claiming space and encouraging settlement. For Frawley, trees were also important “as urban technologies, which added shade and beauty to [the] streets” (2009: 318). Light and shade in the form of trees continue to be central to Sydney’s heritage, and two installations at Vivid Sydney emphasise this.cadman

First, just opposite the Opera House, is Cadman’s Cottage, built in 1816 and one of the few buildings that remain from the first 30 years of the colony. The display is called Mystery of Creation (Fragments of the Seasons) by Heinz Kasper/Robert Faldner, and is described as a ‘poem of light and sound … projecting nature’s changes onto a concrete facade: Flowers blossom, only to wilt; trees wither, only to grow anew. The wind whispers in the tree; its leaves embody alchemy in the transformation of living colour, from green into yellow and red; leaves dance and drop off in a storm; and once again you see a bare tree’.

urban tree project

The second stop was in Martin Place in Sydney’s CBD. A clump of trees growing out of the street scene. This was impressive – watching the trees and animals climb higher and higher. – the Urban Tree Project’, produced by Nicholas Tory, Lucy Keeler, Martin Crouch, Julian Reinhold and Iain Greenhaigh’ covers the MLC building, offering a living tree within the dense urban jungle. The projection hints at Sydney’s bushland heritage.

Text and photographs by Hilary Geoghegan:

June 2nd, 2014 - 06:04am

James Turrell’s wonderful Skyspace, Kielder Forest, Northumbria

With Ulisses, Julie and JSkyspace cloudsan from the IAS at Durham, I headed out on a bright but chilly February day to visit James Turrell’s Skyspace at Kielder Forest, situated a mile and a half from the nearest metalled road, amidst a coniferous plantation. It takes the form of a broad, low tower built from local stone, with a passageway leading into a circular chamber. A concrete bench surrounds its inner circumference, painted grey like the lower wall, which is detached like a thick skin and rises at an outward angle to about 8 feet. A higher wall, painted white, extends to the ceiling, at an angle leaning towards the perpendicular. It joins the ceiling which covers an area of some three feet, at which point a perfectly circular aperture with a very sharp edge has been cut, open to the sky. Sitting on a bench, in daylight, all attention focuses upon the intense, radiant circle of sky that contrasts with the lower light levels that it disperses in the interior like a haze. This light is the interface between internal and external space.  Skyspace fading afternoon

The light of the sky continually reveals its temporality, shifting according to the time of day, the season and the prevailing weather. Whether flecked or thick with cloud, full of stars or midday blue, a succession of intense colours dazzles the eye and conditions the glow or gloom of the interior. The bench invites visitors to sit and look at the circular aperture, and while at first they may seek to glean particular features within the sky, or to situate the experience within a conceptual framework, after a while, as we sink into the work, the intensity of the light absorbs our attention.  The sky garners a focused attention in a way uncommon when outside, and acquires solidity because of the brilliance of its colour and luminosity. As dusk descends, the sky seems to become closer as the gloom of the interior blurs details within, and sunset and moonbeams tint particular sides.Skyspace dusk (2)

We are seeing light in a pure form here, not as it refracts off the textures and features of the landscape. Isolated from the everyday surroundings with which we usually perceive it, light is revealed as integral to the experience of the world. But more than this, the depth, angles and height of the inside walls and ceiling seem to change according to the shifting qualities of light. Turrell’s work thus makes us aware of the ways in which we perceive light. We can’t be sure what we are seeing is there, or whether our eyes are being tricked. In addition, attention is drawn to the sky, which is usually sensed as a sort of neutral background above and around us. Here, it is the central focus and with its changing light and colour it seems to take on a solid, material form. This work does not only make us aware of light: far from any roads or houses, the interior also rings with the echoes of sounds made by visitors or amplifies birdsong, wind or the buzz of an aeroplane from outside, but at other times encloses an unfamiliar and complete silence.Skyspace Moon

February 8th, 2014 - 17:12pm

Crowd Darkening: Designing darkness in a Berlin park

Light designer Sabine De Schutter is the winner of the 2013 CLU Foundation Contest for innovative lighting concepts for exterior public space. Sabine and colleagues were rewarded for devising the concept of Crowd Darkening, using an adaptive system of illumination that uses motion tracking to respond to movement and the numbers of people in a public park in Berlin. When few people were in the park, lighting levels rose to enhance feelings of security, whereas levels fell when the numbers of park users increased. Besides minimising the effects of light pollution, Sabine and the the team contend that a sense of safety is created by the presence of several other people in such a setting. Moreover, a sense of well-being and the quality of the atmosphere can be improved by producing a pleasing, comfortable setting  in which a group of friends can socialise. This is a fabulous example of the ways in which designers are increasingly questioning the need to flood public space with light, and reconsidering the qualities offered by darkness and shadow. I envisage that we are at the threshold of a bigger process through which the relationship between light and dark will be completely reconsidered


November 21st, 2013 - 10:39am