Light at Night: What is the Matter with Darkness?

Meng, Chantal. 2024. Light at Night: What is the Matter with Darkness?. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

In urban night settings, the darkness available in our environment is less a choice than a given. Technological progress, city growth, and politics have reduced our access to darkness, radically changing our perception of it. It is imperative to understand the influence of urban illumination as this force continues to reshape our approach to the matter of darkness.

This research examines the under-investigated question of how artificial light affects the presence and absence of darkness in the nocturnal cityscape. Most studies on nighttime lighting address safety issues, light pollution, and loss of darkness, but there is little discussion of how darkness is also created by, and understood through, lighting practices. This thesis calls for an overhaul of the city’s nighttime light infrastructure and a re-vision of dark atmospheres.

This practice-based investigation presents a new concept of urban darkness. It unfolds through photography, drawing, and, finally, an exploration of storytelling—three media that have significantly contributed to understanding how light shapes our perception of darkness. My photographic work shows how our understanding of images is shaped by the effects of shadow and light. The collective Night Drawing practice I lead fosters embodied experiences of the night that transcend visual representation. And ‘Good Night’, the story, weaves together historical facts and fictional imagination.

This study offers a critical-creative reflection on the matter of darkness as it relates to our spatial awareness and aesthetics of the night environment. The analysis is situated at the intersection of theory and practice, a philosophy of atmospheres, and media ecology. It demonstrates how to build darkness with light and what can and cannot be seen in light at night. The result is a framework for visual thinking that responds to urban design and argues that spatial representation requires embodied, practical engagements, and attentive exploration of the visual world.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

Identification Number (DOI):


light; shadow; darkness; shade; artificial light; illumination; urban night; urban darkness; practice-based research; photography; drawing; fabulation; art; visual culture; cultural studies; artistic research; media architecture; atmosphere; lightscape; phenomenology; design anthropology; media ecology; storytelling; story-making; literary anthropology; visual methodology; participatory research; perception; political aesthetics; architecture; affect; nightscape; dark

Departments, Centres and Research Units:

Media, Communications and Cultural Studies


31 March 2024

Item ID:


Date Deposited:

19 Apr 2024 14:07

Last Modified:

19 Apr 2024 14:07


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