There are two kinds of light ~ the glow that illuminates and the glare that obscures.James Thurber
The sun bathes us in natural light, even when covered by cloud. But for part of each day it is hidden from our sight, lighting the other side of the world. Our ancient ancestors learned to make fires, to keep the threats that darkness held at bay (as well, of course, to keep themselves warm). Since then mankind has developed all sorts of artificial ways to mimic the light of the sun when it disappears at night.
But we didn’t stop there. Having developed these sources of artificial light we got creative with them, using them not just for practical purposes but also to make our world more beautiful. For this week’s Lens Artists Challenge I want to share some examples of places around the world where people have used artificial light for decorative purposes. Of course tastes vary, so we may not all find all of these equally attractive, but the underlying concept of all is the creation of beauty.
More and more, so it seems to me, light is the beautifier of the building.Frank Lloyd Wright, architect
In recent years in January (apart from 2021) London’s Canary Wharf area hosts a festival of Winter Lights. It’s a free festival of light installations and illuminations, dotted around the area in parks, in the waterway, and even up on a roof. We last went in 2019 when I took these photos.
I also compiled a video of some of the installations. I’ve removed much of the sound as it was just the chatter of passers-by and the shouts of excited children. But I did leave one section as the music is an integral part of the installation. The video is a little long but it does give a good sense of the variety of pieces, most of which are designed to be seen in motion.
A year earlier, in 2018, we went to another London festival, Lumière. This showed light displays and installations all over the city, but we focused on the West End area, around Piccadilly and Leicester Square.
In front of the Royal Academy, London, during the Lumiere Festival in 2018
Functional buildings can be made beautiful by lighting, as these stations demonstrate.
The roof of Kings Cross station in London
At Kyoto station we found a long staircase studded with tiny lights that changed to create designs and drawings. Escalators ran up either side so you could ascend for a closer look, then walk down the stairs. As people descended their silhouettes added to the mysterious effect, blocking different areas of lights.
A staircase in Kyoto Station, Japan
I was so taken by that staircase in Kyoto station that I shot a video of it as the patterns changed:
Outside the station artificial light was in use to illuminate the dancing fountains. Time for another video!
Gateshead Millennium Bridge
This bridge spans the River Tyne, linking Gateshead to the south with Newcastle to the north. It was commissioned by Gateshead council to mark the 2000 millennium, hence the name. The aim was to contribute to the revitalisation of Gateshead’s waterfront by making it easier for pedestrians and cyclists to visit from already-revitalised Newcastle Quayside – an aim in which it succeeded. The bridge is lit up at night in a pattern of changing colours.
Gateshead Millennium Bridge at night
Here are a few more examples of artificial lighting used decoratively from around the world.
Four views of the Mirror Stream Fountain in Kharkiv, Ukraine
Lanterns in Hoi An, Vietnam (also in my featured photo)
Entrance to the Presidential Palace in Abu Dhabi
Khimsar Fort Hotel in Rajasthan
It’s been fun pulling together this selection, reminding me of some of the beautiful lighting displays I have seen around the world!