"nacre voi" (mother of pearl sees)

The Photograph Studio, Metropolitan Museum of Art

The Photograph Studio, Metropolitan Museum of Art

I don’t think about light so much. We don’t see light; we see reflections on surfaces, on skin. Surfaces - surfaces are endlessly compelling. 

Surfaces do their own particular dance with light.

Sometimes they repel it – mirrors and polished stainless steel. Sometimes they pull light into themselves and don’t let it go on its way – black wool and tarmac. Sometimes they fuse with light and become it, like mother of pearl. Some surfaces amplify the light – they take a single beam and kick it back in a spray, like a hose with the nozzle turned wide open – that’s what canvas or a white Corrine counter top does with light.

When I turn attention away from light and toward surface, I find (of course) the science of measuring how materials respond to light but also a poetry and a peculiar window into the history of domestic interiors.

Henry Plummer (The Poetics of Light) has a chapter on matter and light that could make you weep it is so delicate an explorations of reflective properties, from the golden glow of Byzantine mosaics to the pearly qualities of human grime layered on glazed Japanese bowls. Study illumination charts of the early 20th century and you find that once we got rid of the filth of oil we went mad with papering our walls.

The Art of Illumination, Louis Bell, 1902

The Art of Illumination, Louis Bell, 1902