“In the immediate aftermath of Hurricane Maria, one image in particular was used by news outlets to illustrate the disaster: a before and after satellite image taken at night, showing an island with a coastline once aglow from the nocturnal workings of dense cities and towns reduced to near total darkness. Puerto Rico was literally and figuratively in the dark—with much of the island inaccessible, those on the outside turned from cameras to satellites to see what was happening. Along with images of flooding and damaged homes that one expects from disaster journalism, the loss of illumination served as a symbolic stand-in for a catastrophe that would ultimately claim almost five thousand lives.
The loss of light as a representation of human suffering is a product of modernity, whose entanglement with light is both deep-rooted and continuously shifting. From the harsh arc-lamp lighting of moonlight towers to the first Parisian electrified boulevards, artificial light enabled the colonization of the night and offered a new tool in modernity’s quest for mastery over nature. Electric illumination was the fulfillment of a promethean quest to master light, promising to alleviate crime and unwanted social activities that took place in the darkness and, most importantly, to create a workforce unhindered by the cycles of daylight and able to work through the night to power rapid global industrialization.
These satellite images of an illuminated Puerto Rico before the storm failed to show the cost of a century of extraction that fueled the world’s Edisonian modernity, or that, somewhat paradoxically, the drive to electrify the world has created the conditions for powerful hurricanes to destroy the island’s power grid, leaving some in the dark for almost a year.”
Espejo Negro / Black Mirror
(with Bart Orr) Based on the attempted transition to solar power in Puerto Rico, the book and essay film Espejo Negro / Black Mirror traces the history of light from the industrial revolution to contemporary climate change infrastructures, highlighting its ongoing tension with colonial realities.