The art of lighting
In the world of museums and art galleries, staging precious exhibits with perfect lighting is a form of art that needs passion, experience and expertise to be executed well. Flexible fiber optic lighting has taken on a central role in these sophisticated lighting solutions for several decades. In this interview, Phillip Reddiough, founder and managing director of the UK-based company Museum & Gallery Lighting Ltd. talks about his experience in the lighting business, the fascination of superior lighting and the benefits of fiber optic solutions.
Please briefly introduce “Museum & Gallery Lighting Ltd”. How did you develop the idea to found this business?
Museum & Gallery Lighting (“M&GL”) started life in 1992 just as fiber optic lighting was starting to become a mainstream lighting solution. With the benefits of fiber optic lighting being ideally suited to museum projects – no heat, UV and with remote light sources – along with the realisation that there were more than 2,000 museums in the UK alone, there seemed logic in trying to develop a career in this niche field. Another consideration was that most museum projects were paid for by government departments and that they endeavoured to pay within 30 days. As a newly formed company, this was extremely important.
Prior to this, I had worked as a designer for a leading lighting consultancy before transferring to a sales role with a fiber optic lighting supplier. The blend of general lighting design experience, specific experiences with fiber optic lighting coupled with lucky timing was the perfect combination that led to Museum and Gallery’s first project: The redesign of the Crown Jewels exhibition at the Tower of London. Further Royal projects followed along with modest number of lower profile projects, and M&GL settled into a rhythm that has continued for the last 28 years.
Looking back on your years of experience: has the role of museum and gallery lighting changed? And how has the “taste” of your customers evolved?
In the early days, fiber optic lighting was seen as something of a dark art due to the fact that it was new and noticeably different to all other forms of lighting. The majority of clients knew they wanted the benefits of fiber but didn’t really appreciate the possibilities – and the limitations – and so it was very much a learning process for them as well as us. Fast forward to today, and there are a myriad of projects for clients to look at and say “I want that approach”. Similarly, many contractors were cautious with the installation of fiber. Now they know that with a little care and thought fiber is no more complicated than any other form of lighting. Our principles of fiber optic lighting remain unchanged in that, like theatre, the lighting effect has to be seen but lighting installation should not.
Which lighting project are you particularly proud of? What was special about the light installation and the achieved light effects?
Around 1999 we were fortunate enough to supply the lighting for the British Galleries at the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. This project was, and still is, the largest project we have ever worked on. With 14 galleries in total, fiber was employed to provide the general gallery lighting as well as the showcase lighting. At the time, this was an ambitious project in its scale and it took a number of lighting trials to prove that fiber optic lighting was up to the task of illuminating entire galleries. The beauty of this approach is that once the lighting has been focused it remains undisturbed when a lamp fails. It also means that there are 90% less lamps to replace compared to conventional lighting.
Please introduce a special document or single artwork that you lit up perfectly.
At the opposite end of the scale, I was involved with focussing the lighting in the Imperial War Museum in London, prior to M&GL. In a small showcase lined in matt black fabric and illuminated by two fiber optic spotlights is Himmler’s death mask. The simplicity of the white mask on the black background still impresses me even now. I also like to think that this case demonstrates perfectly how important even the simplest lighting can be when displaying historical objects.
What role does fiber optics play for your company? Why is it the perfect solution for museums and galleries?
Working in the museum world, fiber optic lighting obviously plays a large part in our lighting solutions. There are four main reasons why fiber optics are perfect for our industry.
Firstly, the lack of ultra violet light and heat. Obviously, UV light and heat are particularly good at fading or damaging objects. Fortunately, a SCHOTT glass harness is particularly good at filtering both UV and heat out resulting in a heat and UV-free source of light.
Secondly, reduced maintenance. One light source can power many spotlights. Additionally, the spotlights can often be difficult to access. With a remote light source, there is only one lamp to replace, and this can be in an accessible location.
Thirdly, maintaining the original look of the display. Many hours were spent with the lighting designer at the Victoria & Albert Museum, directing the spotlights onto the objects to optimise their appearance. By having a remote light source, the maintenance team do not disturb the fiber optic spotlights. Therefore, the lighting remains intact and looks as good as it did some 18 years ago.
Fourthly, accessibility and security. Because the light source is remote from the spotlights, it is possible to locate the spotlights in positions that would be otherwise difficult to maintain, e.g. over swimming pools or at high levels. The light source however is in an accessible location and can therefore be re lamped with ease. Similarly, security: All the light sources for the Crown Jewels showcases are located outside the showcases meaning that the showcases never need to be opened for relamping.
Last but not least: Please briefly introduce your cooperation with SCHOTT. What do you appreciate about working with SCHOTT and its lighting products?
Throughout our projects we have, almost exclusively, used SCHOTT glass harnesses along with their light sources. The glass harnesses have remained constant in their performance whilst the original light sources are now being replaced by longer life, lower energy LED light sources. It’s very much a fit and forget policy we have and the SCHOTT products allow us to achieve this.