The Sociology of Light

In a recent interview about his work on La Grande Bellezza, the Italian cinematographer Luca Bigazzi spoke about meditations on light – or the Sociology of Light as he called it. His words reminded me of the material psychologies embedded within the everyday mundane environment, light being but one example, that subconsciously imbue our thoughts, opinions and judgements. For Bigazzi, the most important socio-spatial assessment he makes when scoping out the set of a film (real or imagined), is the lighting of that space. The ambience omitted from that light is essential to achieving the verisimilitude of narrative experience for the viewer, and is often the very element that can make or break a scene’s visual and emotive impact.


Bigazzi’s surveillance of light not only relates to the scenography of film, but feeds into a wider discourse on bodily interactions with the built environment. For one, it brings to the fore the symbiotic relationship between light and materiality. The way light interacts with architecture plays on our haptic interaction with space. To illustrate a basic example, the feeling one gets when in a small urban square shadowed by the rustic bricks of densely towering buildings will contrast dramatically with the feeling of walking through an open urban space surrounded by sympathetically-designed buildings that reflect and refract the natural light. One experience will be oppressive while the other will be more exposed and interactive. Architects such as Le Corbusier, Pallasmaa, Malaparte, Aalto and Libeskind all espouse a design aesthetic that centralises the importance of light – one that accommodates corporeality into the architectonics of space and enthuses a desire for sensorialism and for an integrated spatio-bodily experience.


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