Did you know that the very first successful ascent of mighty Mount Everest in Nepal records two climbers, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, his guide who lived at the southern base of the mountain among the Sherpa peoples? This expedition began with 400 people and was whittled away to the two lone climbers as the rigors and dangers of the mountain peeled away the rest. The Sherpa people, and their seemingly natural ability to brave the staggering heights, were thrown into the international spotlight. Tourists typically characterize them as hardy, friendly mountain guides and assistants who are incredibly strong and physically compact. Having made their homes in such high altitudes, they have acclimated to lower levels of oxygen (which cause most of the rest of us to suffer from hypoxia). Because no roads exist in the areas of such treacherous terrain, from a young age, the Sherpa people develop strength from carrying all manner of burdens on their backs over long distances.
I can see the question forming now.
“That’s interesting and all, Bruce, but what does that have to do with lighting design?”
Glad you asked.
I see many parallels between sherpa culture and how I am positioning myself as a residential lighting design professional. In fact, rather than call me a Lighting Designer, please refer to me as your Lighting Sherpa. “Lighting Designer” is a term laden with all kinds connotations: some negative and some positive, but all of them expensive. Most people, when they hear “Lighting Designer” assume that this person is going to come into a project, rearrange everything that’s been done already, and come up with some “crazy” lighting design like what they’ve seen on some HGTV show or in Las Vegas. This places an emphasis on the person being a DesignER and less on other project considerations. A Lighting Sherpa, on the other hand, is a helpful, skilled and knowledgable guide who sees Light as the goal, and wants to ensure that the “expedition party” (client) has a safe and successful journey.
Here are some additional benefits of hiring a Lighting Sherpa:
Your project takes the spotlight, not the designer. Sherpas don’t need the glory.
The sherpa helps carry your lighting load, leaving you to enjoy the views and the journey.
The sherpa has trodden the path and is familiar with the territory to help steer clear of potential cliffs and dangers that might lay ahead.
Sherpas walk the path with you, each step of the journey, to ensure you safely and successfully arrive at your destination, and help make sure you get back home safe and sound.
Sherpas have made the lighting landscape their home. They speak language of lighting. They know the culture. They’ve developed a sophisticated taste for the cuisine and can recommend a tasty “dish” based on the palette and budget.
The world of light and lighting is a rapidly evolving industry that requires those acclimated to its culture and context. Those who look to ascend the summit of finding the best lighting for their project might find themselves adrift, or worse yet, having to live with the financial investment of lighting that is actually harmful to their health and well-being. There is so much research from the past decade that continues to show how much poor lighting adversely affects health outcomes in people. Anyone can throw light in a space, just like anyone can try to ascend Mount Everest or any other mountain in the Himalayas, but the risk of doing it wrong can lead to unpleasant outcomes. So, the next time you consider heading out on a “lighting expedition”, hire a Lighting Sherpa, like myself, who will commit themselves to ensuring you safely reach the lighting summit and return with your safety, sanity and budget in tact.