People often ask me what inspires me in my work. The natural environment and the work of artists and designers all inspire me. But there some texts which have also got me thinking about the role of lighting. One of these is the seminal book by Japanese novelist Junichiro Tanizaki called In Praise of Shadows.
Written in 1933, Tanizaki contrasts the traditional Japanese aesthetic to, what he sees as, the intrusive nature of western technology represented by the electric light bulb. Japanese are comfortable with ideas of mystery and concealment ( expressed architecturally by the shojii – paper sliding doors which also act as walls and screens), whereas the Western approach demands that everything be exposed to the gaze of the viewer through the medium of the brightly lit interior. Tanizaki writes how Japanese find beauty in ….. “ the patterns of shadow, the light and the darkness, that one thing against another creates”.
As well as being inspired by the poetic nature of the discussions, I also came to appreciate how much of an intervention electric lighting can be and to look more critically at how lighting (and technology) functions in our interiors.
This book has been very influential and almost all good books on lighting refer to it in some way or another. I have my own copy - which I annotate with thoughts and ideas.