An Interview with Lumiere Lover, Brian Negus

Posted 07/15/2019

As the 10th anniversary edition of Lumiere in Durham approaches, today we’re in conversation with Brian, a partially blind photography enthusiast and repeat Lumiere visitor.

Thanks for joining us today Brian. To start, tell us a little bit about yourself?

I’m 72 and registered blind. I have a condition called Optic Neuropathy which means that I’ve lost most of my detailed vision, but I still have my peripheral vision. I’m able to get around, but I use a lot of magnification, computer-generated speech and digital devices to help me. I’ve been retired now for 12 years, but before that I was director of computing services at Loughborough University, and still live in Loughborough. After retiring I became involved with a local charity for people with sight-loss called ‘Vista’. I was their Chairman and now I volunteer with them to help other blind and partially sighted people achieve their goals using technology.

Close up image of man with field of Lavender as background.

Brian Negus. Photo by Emily Clare Negus

That sounds like a really brilliant initiative. So, how did you first hear about Lumiere?

My wife and I found out about it simply by finding a coach trip from our area to Durham for Lumiere. We thought, this sounds really interesting, let’s give it a try!

What made you come back to the festival again in 2015?

It was the sheer excitement and the scale of the installations. As a registered blind person with some useful vision, Lumiere is a particularly engaging art form for me.  It’s usually big and bright and often has associated sound. Couldn’t be better! When I signed up for the trip in 2013, I hadn’t realised what staggering works of art were on display. In 2013 there was that the incredible elephant (Elephantastic) on Elvet Bridge, an amazing, apparently 3D projection. The whole event was so full of really inspiring and imaginative installations and by the end of the night we realised that one night just isn’t enough to enjoy and savour Lumiere. In 2015 I took lots of photographs to encourage some of my friends to come and enjoy the festival too. In fact, one of my friends has already booked his hotel in Durham for this November already.

A large-scale installation projects a 3D elephant on an imaginary journey above Elvet Bridge in Durham.

Elephantastic, Top’là Design. Lumiere Durham 2013. Photo Matthew Andrews

Which has been your favourite edition of Lumiere so far?

I think I’d have to say the 2017 edition in Durham. Mainly because of the absolutely delightful atmospheric walk through the Cathedral and out along the river with a wonderful soundscape playing over speakers and the gorgeous illumination of the trees on the Cathedral side of the river (Frequencies). That was just pure magic! The soundscape was amazing, because obviously as somebody who doesn’t see so well, the soundscape is very, very important and the experience of the wandering through the glowing trees was unforgettable.

How does visiting Lumiere make you feel?

 It certainly makes me feel very happy and inspired too. I have so many fond memories, like bashing seven bells on the Illumaphonium installation, a light sculpture that you could play a bit like a Xylophone. That was so much fun and also another artwork nearby which changed as people cast their shadows (Control No Control). So, it’s a mixture of quite spiritual experiences like Frequencies last year and just plain fun.

Large Scale purple projection on the trees below Durham Cathedral.

Frequencies, Kari Kola, Lumiere Durham 2017. Photo by Matthew Andrews

Could you describe the experience of visiting Lumiere in three words?

Spiritual. Immersive. Fun!

As a keen photographer yourself, what type of installations have you enjoyed photographing most at Lumiere? And do you have any tips for emerging photographers visiting the festival?

The displays I enjoyed photographing most were the ones that involved some movement and the one that sticks out most in my memory is Les Luminéoles. It was a wonderful fish-like artwork, which was flown in Market Square by some very skilled kite flyers back in 2015. It changed shape with in the wind, making it compelling to photograph so my wife found it very hard to drag me away. Also, my camera, along with magnifying specs that I use, actually helps me to see detail that I couldn’t otherwise see so, for example, when my wife Jackie pointed out Our Moon I was able to locate it and then zoom in to enjoy it better – and take a shot or two. Lumiere is a real treat for photographers, but it’s also important not to forget that you’re also there to enjoy the moment too. That’s probably one of my main tips to other photographers: It’s nice to take away photographs, but it’s also wonderful to enjoy the installations first hand and not always to be looking through a phone screen or through your camera’s viewfinder.

Definitely! There’s no point watching the whole festival through a screen when the real thing is happening in front of you. What piece of advice would you give someone who’s visiting Lumiere for the first time this year to make sure that they make the most of their visit?

I think I would definitely advise them to look at the website and try to do as much planning as they can before their visit, because Lumiereis so wide-spread throughout and around Durham City.

People photographing an installation floating in the sky in Durham's Market Square.

Les Luminéoles, Porté Par Le Vent, Lumiere Durham 2015.  Photo by Matthew Andrews

What do you think the positive impacts of public art and free cultural events are?

 The amazing thing about free events, like Lumiere, is that they encourage the whole community to enjoy art. There are often lots of people who simply can’t prioritise paying for art and culture so it’s wonderful when organisations like Artichoke produce events like this for free. It’s great to see all those kids and adults just revelling in the artworks, isn’t it? It’s so important to foster a love of art and culture in children.

It really is. We work all year round in the community with schools, colleges and community groups to try and make sure the impact of the Lumiere lasts beyond the 4 nights of the festival. So, how do you think that arts and culture in Britain could be made more accessible?

In terms of access, obviously one of the biggest barriers is money and some art events can be depressingly expensive can’t they? So I think that free events can do a great deal to encourage people to enjoy culture. The other issue is the importance of bringing art and culture to the public’s attention effectively too. A lot of promotion for arts and culture targets the people who are already engaged but it needs to speak to the people who might not think it’s for them and that’s definitely a challenge for the industry as a whole.

Small child touching the illuminated facade of installation, Control, No Control

Control No Control, Daniel Iregui, Lumiere Durham 2017. Photo by Matthew Andrews

If there was one thing you could change about Lumiere, what would it be?

To be honest, there isn’t anything! I suppose, the one thing I would change would be to make sure that the people who haven’t experienced Lumiere before come and see it this time.

My final question for you is, what does it mean to you that Lumiere is 10 this year?

I’m just happy to celebrate it as it’s one of the best free events that I’ve experienced. It deserves to be celebrated because it brings an enjoyable, accessible cultural experience to so many people. I’m really looking forward to the 10thanniversary, it’s going to be a very special one.

A projection of a moon with a face on Durham Castle's wall.

Our Moon, Hannah Fox, Lumiere Durham 2017. Photo by Matthew Andrews

 Lumiere returns to its birthplace in Durham for a spectacular 10th anniversary edition on 14th– 17th November 2019. To help us keep producing free events like Lumiere, you can support us by joining our ‘Artichoke Hearts’ membership scheme or by making a one-off donation. Click here to find out more.

Click here to visit Brian’s Flickr account here.

Join in the conversation on social media by using the hashtag #LumiereDurham