Ambient artificial light 1 (Luxemburg and others)

Part 4 of the course deals with three different regimes of lighting, ambient natural light, ambient artificial light and studio (photographer-directed) artificial light. Project 3 ‘The beauty of artificial light’ looks at the second of these, ambient artificial light. This is the first posting to follow-up on the examples and quotes presented in the notes.

‘Daylight changes from moment to moment; the advantage of artificial light is that it stays the same’ (EYP course notes, 83). This is not strictly true; lights will be turned on and off, sometimes at semi-random (stage and event lighting) but it is, on the whole, predictable. The main difference between ambient and studio light (the subject of project 4) is that ambient is not under the control of the photographer; he has to work with what he is faced with – as with natural light.

Therefore, the Christopher Doyle films do not really fit into this section. The play of artificial light on his characters’ faces  is beautiful, but it is all under the film-makers’ control.

Rut Blees Luxemburg (b.1967) is a German photographer with a studio in Shoreditch, London and is a tutor at the Royal College of Art. She has three major bodies of work, photographing London on 5×4 colour film, of which the second, ‘Liebeslied’ (literally, ‘love songs’ or ‘love poetry’ but renamed ‘My Suicides’ in the English translation) is referenced in the course notes. This is a series of intimate cityscape images, made at night and therefore lit predominantly by street lighting. Exposure times are typically 5 to 20 minutes (Campany 1999), which contributes to the overall look.

Her ‘alchemy … a secret process that uses artificial light to turn the streets into gold’ appears to involve embracing the real colour of the light source, rather than attempting to ‘correct’ it. Point light sources reflected in damp or polished surfaces are often beautiful at night, and she tells us in the Campany interview that she will wait for rain. Finally, the long exposures on large-format film are the diametric opposite of the instantaneous pictures of Jeff Wall and others, smoothing out variations and giving water a syrupy quality.

Stella Achimsa is the mystery woman of the course notes. In a Google search of her name, the leading ‘hits’ are five OCA learning blogs by coursemates who have studied EYV ahead of me. All of these blogs say that they are unable to find any trace of Achimsa online, a comment that I am forced to repeat (no independent Google hits, nothing on Facebook or Flickr). However, the search was not wasted because the learning blogs have given me at least one more name to research. Patrick Zachmann, a Magnum photographer will feature in a future posting.


Campany, D. (1999) A conversation between Rut Blees Luxemburg and David Campany 1999 [online] at: [accessed 18/8/16]


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