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Looking Ahead

For Brandston and his colleagues, today is an exciting time to work in the lighting design industry.

Thanks to technology, there are fluorescent and halogen lights, lasers, and liquid crystals. And there is a greater variety of designs to which light is fixed: floor lamps, reading lamps, track lighting, dimmers, and desk lamps, to name a few.

Still, the lighting designer creates from the inside first, Brandston says. Although new lighting products have allowed Brandston, the LRC, and others to do what great masters before them were unable to imagine, Brandston insists it is the individual’s inner creativity that makes a lighting designer unique.

"Technology has changed the way we work but it doesn't change the way we think," Brandston says. "What I got from Stanley and from my basic education is that it was very clear that rules are a substitute for thinking, and it's thinking that makes great technology, thinking that makes good lighting, not the other way around. There's no such thing as a bad product, there are just bad applications."

Nevertheless, Brandston concedes, new techniques have created what was once not possible. For instance, when he began the Statue of Liberty project, he discovered new applications to illuminate the monument in ways that could never before be fabricated.

Although the statue that stands today in New York Harbor differs little from what sculptor Frederic Auguste Bartholdi crafted 100 years ago, not even today do lighting designers make lamps to flatter ladies with green skin, says Brandston with a chuckle.

Yet Brandston, who says "it was clear that Lady Liberty looked best in dawn's early light," found a solution.

During the early morning hours, the statue looks her most radiant, and therefore, most moving, Brandston determined; the position of her arm, the book she is holding, and the torch are all enhanced by the morning light. With that inspiration, Brandston devised a means to replicate dawn, using two lamps developed and donated by General Electric. One lamp mimics the light of the sun, while the other mimics the light of the blue sky in the early morning.

When Brandston isn't immersed in lighting design, he enjoys hunting waterfowl, pheasant, and grouse with his two bird dogs, a springer spaniel named Purdey, and a black Lab called Corey. During his workweek in the city, he shares a Manhattan apartment with his wife, Melanie, director of development at ORBIS, a nonprofit humanitarian organization based in New York City that works to eliminate blindness in developing countries. Friends are fond of calling the couple "Mr. Light and Mrs. Sight."

Brandston's favorite pastime is teaching. For him,
The lighting design for the 1932 art deco building that houses Niagara Mohawk's headquarters in Syracuse.
education is about encouraging students to develop a broad range of knowledge in other subjects as well as a chosen field to stimulate independent and creative thinking.

"We need to learn to see better. Seeing is learning, evaluating—reading," he says. "The more you know about the world, about life outside your discipline, the better you’ll be at your art."

"He has taught us as much about life as he has about lighting. He forces us to include all the cultural elements available, both past and present, into the lighting design," Rizzo says.

Carrying a pocket full of successes, Brandston still yearns for one more: "My goal at this point of my life is to have my students surpass what I have done," he says. “In the golden age of painting, fledgling artists apprenticed themselves to masters. Raphael was apprenticed to Perugino; Michelangelo to Ghirlandaio. They chose their mentors wisely, then outperformed them."

To his students, Brandston offers the same concept in this way: "Milton Glaser, a very well-known artist, said at Cooper Union's graduation ceremony one year: 'Go out and do good work.' Very simply it means raise the bar and continue to go over it.