Comment, IoT/Smart Lighting, Lighting Industry

In praise of the lighting industry’s idiots and illuminated minds

Lux Review columnist Lance Stewart drops names like confetti in his last column of the year.

We all meet idiots who somehow end up in lighting. I console my peers when they encounter these oxygen thieves by suggesting that if there weren’t so many fools and idiots, we would be them, and who would want that?

But I have also been blessed by spending time with people who are, far from being fools or idiots, best described as ‘luminaries’ (no, I am not misspelling luminaires!); people who share my passion for lighting and, more importantly, have done extraordinary things, such as Howard Brandston (Statue of Liberty) and Motoko Ishii (Tokyo Tower).

I have also been privileged to spend time with luminaries outside the lighting industry, including Dr Edward DeBono (inventor of lateral thinking) and Kel Anderson (Cryovac). Strangely, despite being over-achievers, they are all, it seems to me, otherwise quite normal. As Nu Xu, a CERN particle physicist told me over breakfast one day, ‘The wife calls me to remind me to pick up milk and bread, just like everyone else.’ And here I was thinking that people like him must have two hearts like Dr Who, or two heads like Zaphod Beeblebrox.

In fact, I have had so many encounters with amazing people that I sometimes wonder if I’m not secretly Forest Gump.

Take, for example, a meeting that happened soon after I had appeared on FUJI TV’s popular Japanese television program, Naruhodo the World (a program that clearly must have had me confused with someone with a similar name but who was actually somebody (as must have also happened the time a chauffeur picked me up from Amsterdam in the president of Philips’ armoured limo, but that’s a story for another time).

It was at JVC’s headquarters in Yokohama that I first met a diminutive man whose card simply read “Dr Akira Hirota, Director”. Frankly, I had no idea who he was, but an hour or so later, he concluded the meeting, oddly I thought, by thanking me for using VHS products in our projects (that’s old school for ‘video’ for younger readers).

When I asked why he was thanking me, he told me that he ‘had the honour of being the gentleman who invented VHS.’ I later learnt that he also invented shuttle search: the ability to view video while fast-forwarding and rewinding. No wonder they made him a director of JVC. All I could think to reply was ‘very honoured’.

And that is precisely how I feel about the luminaries I get to spend time with here in the lighting fraternity. People like Steve Coyne, a physicist who is also a lighting and daylighting expert. Steve consults to our government on lighting, and has just been appointed to work on a project for the UN. And Professor Ian Cowling, a past President of IESANZ, a university lecturer and an expert in both lighting and photometry.

There are others I could name, but the list would be too long. Not as long as my other list comprising fools and idiots of course, but long nonetheless.

The United Nations has declared that 2015 will be the ‘International Year of Light and light-based technologies.’ So what will our industry do to celebrate it? I, for one, will be raising a glass in salute to luminaries – whose passion and pursuit of excellence in lighting sets them apart.

In the meantime, let’s hope some of our industry’s lesser beings have decided to change careers so they can annoy someone else for a change. But not too many please, I don’t want to be the dumbest guy left standing.


Lance Stewart is an award-winning lighting designer, actor, inventor and playwright. He has been active in the IES. since 1990 as a member, committee member, lighting lecturer, keynote conference speaker and MC. His company, Creative Lighting, is based in Queensland Australia and manufactures and exports components, systems and solutions for lighting control.