I have often spoken of my love for podcasts. I’m an auditory learner and so for me the podcast medium is a terrific way to engage in new ideas. One of my favorite podcasts is Start the Week from the BBC. This show l launches your Monday mornings off with a big existential question and then asks for points of view from multiple, often brilliant, contributors. This week’s show struck a chord with me and lighting and so I thought I’d share it.
The show this week was about the idea of nothing, and what quickly emerged from the panel is that whether you’re taking about mathematics, physics, or art it’s very difficult to actually have a nothing. For instance, is the vacuum of space nothing? Or is it simply the space between two other bodies? Is the truest nothing whatever existed before the Big Bang? Well what was that? The more you think about it, the harder and harder is it to really define a nothing.
Nothing and Light
So it is with light and lighting design. If there is a nothing in lighting it is darkness - the absences of light. Yet, to a lighting designer (or anyone who wishes to create great light) darkness is essential. It’s akin to negative space in art or silence in music. Without it the created portion is irrelevant. Here’s an example.
So stripped of the awful color of the high pressure sodium street lights, what makes this image interesting is the contrast between the lighted portion of the street in the background and the darkness in the foreground. It is the absence of light, the negative space, that is compelling in this scene. Without the modeling effect of shadows and darkness our eyes (and brains) would have no way of discerning shapes and depth. Absence, darkness, nothing is also a way to create mystery. We collect 80% of the information governing our lives visually. Without light we cannot discern that information. That creates mystery and interest for the viewer. Images like the long dark tunnel or a face lit in silhouette. That’s the power of nothing in light. Darkness is a lighting designer’s best friend.