Shifting the ordinary

We are now living in the Anthropocene; where the intervention of man has touched every surface of the earth, becoming its own “geological force”. This epoch has caused a shift in how we think about and how we see our surroundings; how we experience nature. Our walk through the woods or our long weekend getaway trip down the river has the increasingly difficult task of surprising us. We half expect the unexpected.

We have been bombarded with beautiful digital renditions of landscapes on our Facebook, Twitter, desktop backdrops, Wikipedia and the myriad of digital screen surfaces in our lives. Even places we are yet to experience in the flesh seem familiar. So how do we truly encounter the unseen, the unexpected in the ordinary?

The simple answer is: light. We can edit what one sees with controlled illumination.

Cleveland-based artist, Barry Underwood, uses LED lights as alien gestures through bucolic landscapes, in his photographic series Scenes. The project started around 2002 and has continued throughout the last decade. It combines Underwood’s experience of night photography in urban areas and takes it into the rural setting, which is typically unlit. It highlights the importance and power of selective illumination.

Interestingly, Barry Underwood has a background in theatre, as a technical director; a role which is all about staging a point of view. The success of an incredible set hinges on lighting design. In this way you are able to control and frame a moment. You are able to highlight the drama and conceal the unnecessary. On the other hand, taking this method into nature brings in an element of the uncontrolled.

As well as using strategic LED light sources, Underwood is also working with “found light”, which is the ambient light  surrounding the landscape; an element that is constantly changing. So, incidental light becomes an important ingredient in your creating the unexpected tool kit. Let’s just take a moment for a refresher on the behaviour of light rays – an incident ray is the ray of light that strikes a surface. It is the illumination that will then be reflected from a surface. So in this case, the LED plays an important role in creating that lighting atmosphere. However, the contrast of the strong illumination of the LED begins to change next to the hues of a sun set, or a still grey sky. This variable element shifts and changes the colour of a scene; it gives you the ability to create an array of “chromatic emotions and moods”.

Light has the ability to frame a first impression of a scene. So one man’s amazement at an unexpected landscape is another man’s highly controlled and choreographed moment. This is beautifully demonstrated in the surreal landscapes of Barry Underwood, but the same principles apply to any space. Shift to the unexpected. The hue and colour of the final space is an important consideration when setting up these first impressions. LED has such a large spectrum of colour, through the mixing of the RGB values, that you are able to set aside a space from its surroundings. Make someone double take at your new nature. Rather than seeking the unseen, perhaps the new unexpected is finding a different way of viewing the ordinary.

(Photos by Barry Underwood)

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