Photo: Krista Alba
Anyone who’s ever tried to tour D.C. in a few days (or otherwise enjoy the city) can understand that the hustle and bustle can be tiring. The monuments in particular are always overflowing with people, and there really isn’t an isolated moment to be had. The historic monuments in D.C. are extraordinary, but we have seen them too oft in movies, television shows, or as pop culture references-- we can sometimes take their beauty for granted as we are ritually saturated with images from our nation’s capital. It just so happens that I had an opportunity to embark on a night tour of the city’s monuments, and it totally altered the way I interact with D.C.
You probably know that feeling when you go out at night in your residential area and forget for a moment where you are; the difference between the appearance between night and day is eerie. I’ve known several people who can navigate perfectly fine during the day, but as soon as it gets dark they lose all sense of direction. I think that difference in lighting can actively create a divergence in the way we perceive and interact with the world around us: it changes dimension, proportion, and ambience. Washington D.C. constantly works to enhance and preserve the magnitude and prominence of its architecture, as well as to facilitate its appearance to make it as remarkable and accessible to the public as possible. The architects and lighting designers wanted to present the same visibility at night, and they accomplished such: as a result, the grandiosity is only heightened. The edifices are starkly and brilliantly lit, marble radiating like beacons in a sea of darkness.
Photo: Krista Alba
There’s no way to explain the sense of solitude that comes with exploring D.C. at night, so I will leave you with a few pictures. I feel these pictures are not just representative of the magic that occurs after sunset, but also how light can alter the way we view the world. For instance, museums are lit in a very specialized manner as a method to emphasize certain aspects of the art or subjects within. There are many installations that make particular use of this strategy, such as the Filthy Lucre exhibition at the Freer-Sackler (you can click to read a previous post, written by Claire Fuller, about Darren Waterson’s interpretation of the legendary Peacock Room). Lighting can be as subdued or dramatic as the designer intends for it to appear. I invite you to enjoy some photos that I took of Washington at night.
Photos: Krista Alba
Next time you visit a museum or exhibition, take some time to appreciate the intricacies of the lighting. It will give you a richer and deeper appreciation of what is involved in making a work enchanting. I also implore you to explore wherever you live (or wherever you visit) at night to reimagine the way you normally understand the world.