NEW YORK (Reuters Life!) - Whether illuminating a celebrity wedding at the Plaza Hotel, a runway show for Victoria’s Secret, or Yoko Ono’s birthday party, designer Bentley Meeker knows he’s got it right when his lighting sings to his soul.
“There’s a moment at every event where we adjust the light levels, and we all look at each other and we all know that’s it,” said Meeker, who has been transforming venues with light for 20 years.
“It’s not a technical thing, although we do highly technical installations,” he said. “It comes down to one thing — does it sing to you? When it sings to you, that’s the moment. That’s transcendent.”
The 200 photographs in Meeker’s coffee table book, “Light X Design: 20 Years of Lighting,” showcase the work of the designer who has shined his cutting-edge light on an array of high-end events, from a bar mitzvah with Aerosmith performing, to the launch of Oprah Winfrey’s magazine, to Chelsea Clinton’s wedding day.
“It’s all about taste and there’s no rehearsal,” said Meeker, 43, who began his career as a photographer’s assistant when he was 14, lit the New York City disco Palladium in the 1980’s, and moved on to event lighting after a screenwriter’s strike wiped out his film work.
“Every project has a different objective,” said Meeker. “Do you want it to be serene? Do you want it to be romantic? Do you want it to be red? Do you want it to be timelessly beautiful? Do you want it to be restrainedly elegant?”
Often at today’s multi-media events lights must also multi-task.
“For a fashion show you want a visually crisp environment for the clothing to be seen,” he said, “but it’s also got to suit the video. It’s a tricky thing.”
But foremost, Meeker insists, it’s about beauty.
“We approach light from a beautification standpoint first,” he said. “It is about color rendering. Ambers and pinks — the warmer colors are more flattering to skin tones. Cooler colors are not.”
This aesthetic extends to home lighting, where Meeker has been outspoken in his preference for incandescent bulbs with dimmers to compact fluorescents, which he calls “less spiritual.”
“The quality of light is similar to your office,” he said. “Last time I looked people were trying to get out of their offices. Put in incandescents, dim the lights, and everyone will look better.”
For Meeker, lighting is a bit of a lost art.
“Movie stars would want to bring their own lighting guy with them. Now we’re looking at light as it pertains to the electrical grid.”
One of his most memorable events was held at the Museum of the American Indian in New York City.
“The White House asked us to light this office and ‘just make it beautiful.’ No one would tell us why,” he said.
Then six secret service agents entered the room, which hosted a dinner for then Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and nine female heads of state.
“All the women who were running countries at that time in the 1990s,” he said. “Wow! Privilege.”
Expectations of illumination were also understandably high at the party held to launch his book.
“Everybody expected the most beautiful light at our book party and we created the most beautiful light: with candles. We used candlelight.”