An abundance of bright light is a hallmark of almost every urban environment. It allows us to extend our workday, to travel about in relative safety, and to socialize outside the home to an extent that was not possible before the invention of gas lighting. Light also functions as a form of social control at night. In my two most recent bodies of work, I am exploring places where these social controls start to break down by examining spaces and places where lights are on but are serving no function and what happens in dark places where people go despite the absence of light. Urban lighting is so ubiquitous that we often direct it upon places that no longer need to be lit. In the first body of work, I find and photograph places and objects that no longer serve any purpose, or that serve no function at night, such as empty spaces that ATM’s once occupied and blank marquees, spaces that are still lit as though they contain information or have some sort of functionality. Informed more by the absence of any object than by its presence, these photographs are sometimes difficult to read. Furthermore, they demonstrate the pointlessness of much of our urban lighting, and ask questions about who is directing our gaze, and where and why is it being directed.
With the exception of security lighting, most light at night tells us “go here. This business is open, this sidewalk is safe.” Darkness, or the absence of lighting, tells us where not to go, and where we are not welcome. In the second body of work, I venture into dark places that have no signs, gates, or guards to keep people out, but instead use only the absence of lighting as a sign that people were not meant to be there. This lack of clarity about whether these places are off limits, coupled with evidence of human presence, cause these spaces to become ambiguous and confusing. Far from being identifiable, these spaces are difficult to place. These places also question the idea that people need lighting at night in order to utilize outdoor spaces.
Based on current estimates of levels of light pollution world wide, it is believed that only about 30% of the world’s population can see the Milky Way. Light pollution has long been thought to be a concern only of astronomers and stargazers. However, while seemingly benign, light pollution is actually associated with a wide variety of problems, from increased rates of cancer to disruption in animal behavior to insomnia. These photographs question why we are so accepting of urban lighting even when it serves no purpose and is even absurd.