A thousand years ago, in  Japan, rare naturally phosphorescent seashells and jade were first ground to make luminous pigments for artists.  A Chinese manuscript, Xiang-Sham Ye-Lu, now on display in Taipei, describes how the Japanese artists learned to made luminous paintings with these extraordinary resources. The paintings were invisible during the hours of daylight. Only when darkness came would the images begin to glow, their stored sunlight slowly fading until in a few hours they had finally vanished. When the Emperor  asked why the animals in the paintings only appeared at night, the artists replied that the creatures spent the daylight hours grazing in secret, sacred groves.


This series of photographs, LUX, was made by painting objects with phosphorescent paint.  After a period of exposure to light, the objects are then plunged into total darkness, when they begin to glow. That faint, slowly fading light is caught by keeping the camera shutter wide open over a long period.

The selection of the objects used in LUX is inspired by the seventeenth century Dutch genres of the memento mori and vanitas. These artists were endlessly resourceful in choosing imagery evocative of the passage of time and human mortality: candles, hourglasses, blooms, foodstuffs. According to Ernst Gombrich,  the very act of making representations is itself a kind of vanitas since the image does not provide access to the objects depicted, a reminder of the folly of material acquisition. The slow decay of the fading light caught in these photographs is itself a reference to this concept at the heart of the vanitas theme.

The Japanese writer, Junichiro Tanizaki, in his famous book on aesthetics, In Praise of Shadows, describes how highly the quality of 'gleam' was prized in traditional Japanese culture. Tanizaki deplored the way modernist architecture and interior decoration favoured brightly lit rooms which banished shadows. Rather he favoured the dim interiors of  traditional Japanese homes in which the subtle surface qualities of objects, such as burnished wood, laquer or raku, might be allowed to gleam alluringly in the half light.


The lux (symbolized lx) is the unit of illuminance in the International System of Units ( SI