What do you say when a client asks you to design the lighting for their project using candlelight as the main light source? The only answer possible is: Yes, please!
I have to admit that this has never happened to me before. However, the statement needs to be put into context: the project at hand is a luxury resort and the space in question is the bathing area of the single and double villas. So yes, candlelight is perfect!
Today I want to dive deeper into this, that is, try and focus on: Why is candlelight perfect? At first, this may seem like a pointless question, we all know that candlelight is the apex of “romantic lighting” and for most of us, using candlelight to create intimate environments isn’t really rocket science. You don’t need to be an experienced lighting designer to understand that the warm, dim and slowly moving candlelight can trigger in us feelings of calm and relaxation. The real question is: why does this happen? Why is this reaction to candlelight so common to us? It seems to be consistent throughout all humankind, irrespective of ethnicity or culture.
These questions brought me back to the early days of The Dark Art when we were trying to decipher potential origins to our reactions to light. At the time, we were naturally led down the path of evolutionary theory and found many correlations in our current understanding of the early relationship of the first humanoids with fire.
To cut a long story short, during the early days of human evolution, fire offered us a different relationship to light than sunlight. During the dark, cold and dangerous night, fire was an important source of light, warmth and security. It was a key tool for survival and mastering the use of fire was essential for the success of our species.
Early humans realized this importance and understood that the light from a flame is fundamentally different from the light of the sun. To start, we can control it and this is important because it allowed for us to have a deeper and more personal understanding of it. Fire is usually positioned on the ground or at a low level, meaning that the characteristics of its light and shadow are different to daylight. The most obvious difference being the fact that firelight comes from below and daylight from above. Firelight creates a slightly distorted shadow because of how close we are to the light source and its shifting movement is continuously revealing and concealing our surroundings adding a sense of mystery to what is being lit.
These characteristics were so impactful that we started to develop belief systems around the importance of fire. Zoroastrianism, a religion that is currently still in practice and is considered to be the oldest religion in human history, has fire worshipping at its centre. Scholars also believe that the act of fire-worshipping even predates the Homo sapiens species.
What this means is that humankind’s use of firelight even predates humankind and this is the true origin of our close relationship to candlelight. For millennia, we’ve gathered around the campfire with those who are close to us, to stay safe and keep warm, to strengthen social bonds and also to fall in love. This is why our reaction to candlelight is so hardwired into our DNA; this is why candlelight is perfect!