Billed as “the greatest magazine about light—in nature, culture, art, architecture and design,” Munich-based lighting designer Gerd Pfarré and graphic designer Frank Koschembar have set the bar high—and large. Measuring 19 inches wide by 27 inches tall, Illuminator requires space to read—and space to store. Modeled after the art magazine The Manipulator (1982–1994), which was launched by Willy Moser and David Colby, the format is the largest page size that a printing press can handle.
But more than anything else, what the large format offers is a vehicle for viewing stunning images and for being inspired. “We wanted to create something that would take advantage of the large TIF files that are created when design projects are photographed,” Pfarré says. “There’s been no print medium in a magazine format that’s done this for lighting.”
Two years in the making, Illuminator is intended to speak to a broad design-based audience, or “anyone who is fascinated by light,” Pfarré says. To that end, Pfarré and Koschembar targeted the initial launch this past October to design communities in Europe and the U.S. with a particular focus on architecture and museum bookshops. “It’s really about reaching a creative audience,” Pfarré says.
Each issue (there will be two per year) has a cover story dedicated to a particular topic. For the inaugural issue, that topic was bioluminescence, and the issue contained a short essay by molecular biologist Heike Körber and stunning images of fireflies. Also included is a look at the work of light artist James Turrell (above) and theatrical lighting designer Max Keller, an interview with Ingo Maurer, a photo essay by Berlin artist Anne Kathrin Greiner titled “Disciplined Spaces,” and an essay written by lighting designer Mark Major on the role of color in architectural lighting design. But the text throughout is secondary to the images, as your eye is constantly drawn to the visual richness of the photographs.
One of the most thought provoking moments in the magazine, and one that fulfills its editorial mandate to speak to light’s essence, is the reproduction of George de la Tour’s 17th-century painting The Education of the Virgin, a depiction of St. Anne teaching her daughter to read the Bible by candlelight. As a full spread, it’s a powerful visual that celebrates light’s incandescent magic.
“Light plays a vital role in our lives,” Pfarré says. “We want this publication to offer people an emotional and philosophical way of understanding the medium.” Interesting then that in this digital age Pfarré and Koschembar have limited the publication to being print-only and have purposely created no companion website. Pfarré readily acknowledges that Illuminator—with its size and its cost, €49 (about $63 per issue)—is not going to be for everyone, and that’s OK. “We want people to have a physical and intimate experience thinking about and viewing light, as if you were in an art gallery,” he says. That said, the duo does not plan to lose money on this project. Costs are covered by subscription and single-copy purchase revenue as well as four full-page ads from lighting manufacturers.
Pfarré and Koschembar are already at work on the next issue, which will focus on artistic light. Future topics might include shadow, color, and divine light. Inquiries can be made to firstname.lastname@example.org. Peter Miller Books in Seattle serves as the U.S. distributor (petermiller.com).