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Light Research @ MMU

Melbourne’s giant bauble

Besides the vernacular endeavours featured in the entry below, Melbourne has also commemorated the festive season by installing a giant illuminated bauble in the city centre’s Federation Square. Like the huge Christmas lights in New York featured on this blog two years ago (, the bauble reimagines and honours an ordinary domestic decoration, a familiar adornment on the Christmas tree in millions of homes, but defamiliarizes it by enlarging it to gigantic scale.

From a distance, it looks magical, especially with the façade of St Paul’s Cathedral in the background. This six meter high white bauble, however, has an entrance on two sides and invites visitors to enter into it, so they may be surrounded above and laterally by thousands of tiny, glittering lights, so that they may also engage with the installation at close quarters. This is a design devised for the selfie generation, and indeed, throughout the evening, numerous photographs are taken of groups and individuals both outside and inside the bauble, producing a sociable, interactive hubbub on the square.


December 29th, 2016 - 10:00am

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.


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).


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.


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.












Hilary Orange, UCL Institute of Archaeology,

January 23rd, 2015 - 13:30pm

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 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

Photographer tracks the temporality of light

Photographer Fong Qi Wei has produced a stuning set of images of Singapore that dramatically reveal the ever changing qualities of light across spacetime revealed by the passage of light across a Singapore high rise, the way colours of place continuously change, and the centrality of light to photographic composition. Fong’s strategy is to compile layers of photo strips from images taken at the same place over a 2 to 4 hour time span. Beach Sunset, 2013. All Rights Reserved.hotography/ Thanks to Emma Spence for alerting us to these fabulous images.    




August 16th, 2013 - 14:56pm