Charles Dickens was one of the more celebrated nightwalkers. He took up the practice
of pounding the pavements of Victorian London as a cure for insomnia. He discovered
homelessness, drunkenness and vice, grist to the mill of both his literary inspiration and
his social consciousness. He also used nightwalking to salve his conscience and ease his
angst. After killing off Paul Dombey, he apparently stalked the streets until daybreak.
There is a whole tribe of people – poets and prime ministers among a more humble
populace – who prefer to explore the city streets after dark. And while there might be
rural night walkers, it is really the occupation of an urban environment. Both carelessly
and calculatedly lit, it takes on an entirely different persona after hours, like the sense of
otherness gleaned when you look at a familiar room in a mirror.
Light artist and lighting designer Leni Schwendinger has walked at night since she was
a teenager. Her passion is sharing her observations of the nocturnal city, its singular
qualities of light and dark, its shades and shadows, the gradations of illumination from
eye-stabbing headlamps and neon signage to the rain-softened glow of a street light.
Schwendinger has conducted countless Light Walks for other people, both in her home
city of New York and around the world.
In this issue she talks to two other inveterate nightwalkers, Nick Dunn and Matthew
Beamont, both of whom have written lyrically about their noctambulation (an extract
from Dunn’s Dark Matters follows the piece). It is revealed as a complex experience, an
aesthetic, philosophical, even political act. The curfew has always curbed the freedom
of the nightwalker, of course. In England, walking at night was a crime for a long time.
William the Conqueror ordained that a bell should be rung at 8pm, at which point
Londoners were supposed to put out their fires and candles, and get their heads down.
The 24/7 city is a very different proposition.
Jill Entwistle, Editor
17 COMMENT LIGHTING MAGAZINE
ING LIGH T ING