From the bright world paradigm to shadow aesthetics: deconstructing visual metaphors of over-illumination

Collee, Lauren. 2024. From the bright world paradigm to shadow aesthetics: deconstructing visual metaphors of over-illumination. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

Over the past 150 years, electrification, industrialisation, colonialism and globalised capitalism have all modified the human relationship to night and darkness in profound and highly differentiated ways. The effects of light pollution now hide the Milky Way from at least one third of earth’s human inhabitants, and the global movement to protect dark skies has grown rapidly in scale and reach. The Dark Sky movement and the emerging notion of “light pollution” have cemented an idea of spatio-temporal darkness as a precious and dwindling environmental resource, particularly in the West.

This thesis argues that over the past half-century, a range of historical forces — including the expansion of electrification, the expansion of personal digital devices (digital light) and the emergence of the concept of the Anthropocene — have resulted in the pervasiveness of a particular visual metaphor for understanding modernity, which I am calling the “bright world paradigm”. Within the bright world paradigm, light becomes a short-hand for a feeling of oversaturation, overexposure, media overload, endless activity and incessant speed. Meanwhile, “darkness” has come to stand in for an attractive set of qualities that are seen as being eroded by contemporary relations, including rest, nature, interiority, and a “healthier” relationship to time.

Part 1 of this thesis pays close attention to the role that technologies, metaphors and everyday visual culture play in mediating both material and conceptual landscapes of illumination, and argues that the bright world paradigm obscures more than it reveals. Part 2 proposes ‘shadow aesthetics’ as one strategy for deconstructing the bright world paradigm and for thinking through the philosophical and representational crises of the so-called Anthropocene, tracing this aesthetics through examples from visual culture. Overall, this thesis calls for more attention to be paid to the ways in which the light/dark binary is deployed in conversations around nature, technology, and temporality.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


light, darkness, Anthropocene, energy, visual cultures, digital culture, blue light, temporality, film

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Visual Cultures


29 February 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

05 Apr 2024 16:43

Last Modified:

08 Apr 2024 10:58


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