Light and the Urban Landscape: Making the Familiar Strange - Rachel Sarah Jones

Light is a fundamental element within visual perception as well as a vital element within the photographic process. As a photographer, I am continually attempting to ‘capture’ this elusive element in order to examine how light shapes the perception of the urban realm. Two questions that I continually seek to address through my photographic work are: How does light, an immaterial and ethereal substance, affect the perception of the material urban landscape? How does photography transform light into physical form?

Of course, there are myriad ways in which light influences everyday life within the city. Daylight hours have very different rhythms to night-time hours. Sunlight, street lights, car lights, neon lights, lights from mobile phones, computer screens, billboards, etc. all have an impact upon how we move through the city, what we notice, what we focus upon, who we communicate with and more.

The presence of light does not automatically create clarity or enhance perception, despite the fact that illumination is often equated with understanding. While light can help us to understand the material realm, it also has the potential to confound perception. For instance, light has the ability to create optical illusions that confuse the eye and it also has the power to cause blindness.



The photographs in this series, LuminoCity, consider the complex role that light plays within perception by examining the fluid boundaries between recognition of objects/phenomena and a state of disorientation. Light has the capacity to illuminate the physical landscape as well as distort it. These images, taken in Soho, London, incorporate reflected and refracted light to produce fragmentation and disorientation, de-familiarising the urban landscape by disrupting the boundary between legibility and illegibility, between figure and ground, and between subject and object.



This series is also part of a larger, on-going investigation into the relationship between perception and the medium of photography. Pushing photographic technology beyond its comfortable limits reveals alternate ‘realities’ and ‘hidden’ moments, which become visible through the recording process. By ‘painting’ the city anew through the photographic process, familiar sights become distorted and less recognisable. Excessive light streaming through the shutter of the camera has caused much of the information and detail to be erased, reducing the landsdcape to minimal shapes and forms. This saturation of light and colour transforms the everyday landscape into a surreal space.



It becomes necessary to pause and look more closely in order to make sense of the kaleidoscopic scenes presented. These images seek to draw attention to the nuances of light and shadow present in the everyday urban environment, which often go unnoticed or are taken for granted during our daily routes through the city. The camera captures these banal incidents and highlights them, allowing these familiar events to stand out as extraordinary.


Rachel Sarah Jones utilises photographic and filmic approaches to examine the relationship between the material and immaterial within the process of perception. Her work explores the flux and flow of city rhythms to produce a living montage in which memory, imagination and the physical world combine. She seeks to challenge the perception of the photographic medium by pushing technology out of its comfort zone. Rachel holds a BA in Sociology from Columbia University (New York) and a BA in Fine Art from Central St. Martins School of Art and Design. She received an MA in Photography and Urban Cultures (2007) and a PhD in Visual Sociology (2012) from Goldsmiths, University of London. Rachel has exhibited and presented her work at numerous international cultural institutions, festivals, and symposia, including Tate Britain, the British Library, and Parasol Unit Foundation for Contemporary Art. Rachel is a member of the Urban Photographers Association and is co-founder of the International Association of Visual Urbanists (iAVU).