Bright Lights

A visit to the current Dan Flavin exhibition in the Vienna Museum of Modern Art (MUMOK) evokes a number of interesting questions as to the art of light and the related domain of photography, often also described as “painting with light” (as if e.g. oil paintings would not equally need light as a quintessential element). The exhibition is placed in a very reduced environment so that the visitor often finds him- or herself alone with the light source (which uniquely consists of neon light tubes of different colours). This reduced-ness makes for a visually very interesting backdrop to photograph, and one is suddenly tempted to photograph other people’s art, expecting to create with this one’s own. This fallacy can not easily be contoured, even if one tries – as I have done here – to include other people, but it is equally difficult to not press the shutter when confronted with such clear lines, overpowering colours and otherwise lifeless, wide-open spaces.

Bright Lights, I

Light art has existed for a long time in such artistic spaces as architecture – only to mention here stained glass windows in churches and mosques – but it only came into its own as a singular form of expression with the ascent of the artificial light bulb. Since then, it has entered modern art as a defining feature, whether as projections, sculptures, light installations or ephemeral firework displays. A very interesting recent example is also the video paining project by Sweatshoppe.

Bright Lights, II

In terms of photography, light is obviously fundamental. But the deliberate and conscientious use of light as a method goes beyond this. Surrealist photography such as the work of Man Ray prepared the ground for this, and in more recent times artists such as Trent Parke or Alex Webb integrate light as a defining part of a picture. Webb’s latest publication, “The Suffering of Light”, is harking back to Goethe’s Theory of Colours, which ties together the nature of light, shadow and colours and has exerted a direct influence on the arts.

Bright Lights, III

The strong emphasis on light and colour is by far not undisputed. Aside from the group of photographers who – mostly unthinkable in the world of painting – expressively confine themselves to the “realism” of black and white, there are many who refuse to have light dominate form and content, and shy away from strongly lit or highly contrasted subjects, since the play of light and shadow would artificially detract from the meaning of the picture.

Bright Lights, IV

British Embassy Tehran

On a serious note… the attacks by protesters against the British Embassy in Tehran has brought home to me again that I ought to do something with the large amount of photo material that I have still in my archive from Iran. These include pictures I have taken of the Residence of the British Embassy, which was able to take by invitation of the Embassy members one day in 2008, to document the historic relevance of the building and the artifacts that have been collected over the time by the various inhabitants of the Residence. I have sorted through the material and plan to publish them in the form of a book soon, but as a teaser I am publishing here the two drawings my children made of the building after a school visit by the British School Tehran to the premises.

My daughter Madelene's painting of the Residence when she was in year 4 of the British School Tehran, in 2008

My son Tristan's painting of the Residence, its garden and pool, when he was in year 3 of the British School Tehran, in 2008.