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Shedding Light on Ramses

Randall Whitehead discusses how the Ramses exhibit is illuminated

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The Lighting Doctor, Ramses

I recently went to see the new Ramses exhibit which is traveling around the country. It certainly was interesting to learn about him. He lived into his 90s and fathered more than 100 children.
Unlike Tutankhamen, whose tomb was filled with treasures, King Ramses tomb was completely ransacked. King Ramses though, was a great marketer of his own image. Many structures were built with carvings of him, along with very detailed notes on his life and military campaigns. There are more statues of him than any other pharaoh in all the ancient history of Egypt. If he were alive today, he would be all over Instagram and other social media.

I’m always interested to see how these exhibits are illuminated. The show merits a strong B+, but there are certainly things that could use some improvement.

What I did particularly like is that there were a lot of videos, so the show was not stagnant. They would often re-create what a temple or other building look like in its heyday by visually working backwards from its present state. It’s like what they did with the opening scenes of the Titanic movie where you saw the wreck of the cruise ship and then gradually faded into what it looked like on the day it launched.

The Lighting Doctor, Ramses Exhibit
The color of light makes a difference by enhancing the sandstone.

This 10 foot tall sandstone statue of Ramses was floating in the center of an exhibition hall with videos of present day Egypt on the four walls. He was bathed in a warm white light. LED track heads were used with screw in 3000° kelvin 90° CRI, PAR 30 bulbs. The surrounding areas where people stood were illuminated with a deep blue LED light.  This visually made the crowd disappear, which helped make the viewing experience feel more intimate.

ramses exhibit, the lighting doctor
Lighting integrated into the display case reduces shadowing.

This face plate from the top of a sarcophagus was housed in a Lucite case, where the LED lighting was integrated into the casework. This allowed the artwork to be highlighted more precisely. A bank of small directional, single diode LEDs were put into service. These utilized a 2700° kelvin light source with a CRI of 90.

The Lighting Doctor, Ramses
Nobody intentionally wants to be a Conehead.

These two upright sarcophagi were, using the same integrated LED system. As you can see, a lot of these directional lights were hitting the back wall which created distracting cones of illumination.

Ramses Exhibit, the lighting doctor
Making use of the translucent quality of the material. 

These two alabaster pieces were well illuminated. A good punch of light went into the centers so that you could feel the illumination glowing through the translucent stone.  Here too, a warmer color temperature of 2700° kelvin enhanced the coloration of the natural stone.

Ramses Exhibit, the Lighting Doctor
Heading in the right direction, illumination-wise.

A granite carving of Ramses head and torso was illuminated from above, using the LED track system. The lighting here is a little harsher than the lighting that was integrated into the display cases. I don’t mind it. It adds more dimensionality through the shadowing. His face is evenly illuminated which is the most important part. It’s OK that we don’t get to see his ears clearly.

Ramses exhibit, the lighting doctor
You can just barely see the reflection of the LED linear light strips.

This sarcophagus cover was placed in a Lucite or glass case. I can’t confirm what it was made of since we couldn’t touch anything. A linear LED strip light was installed along the perimeter of the display case, housed within an aluminum extrusion. This hid the light source very well.

Randall Whitehead headshot

Randall Whitehead is an educator and author on the subject of lighting design. His work has been featured in many magazines, including Architectural Digest, Home & Garden and Esquire. He has appeared as a guest expert on HGTV, Discovery, CNN and Martha Stewart Living Radio.

His Latest book Beautiful Light outlines how to create successful and subtly beautiful LED lighting designs for homes and gardens. Available through Amazon and Rutledge Books.

You can see his entertaining 1-minute instructional videos at furniturelightingdecor.com. And you can follow him on Instagram:  @randall.whitehead


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