Santiago by light

Published in the dossier of July 2017

Lighting singlehandedly represents 15% of global electricity consumption and 5% of CO2 emissions worldwide. However, if the whole planet were to adopt the strictest standards in this respect, the energy consumption related to this use could be halved. To achieve this, switching to energyefficient lighting such as lightemitting diodes (LED) is a priority. UN Environment is committed to supporting — and accelerating — this transition with the implementation of an “integrated policy for efficient lighting” christened “United for Efficiency-en.lighten” in partner countries. Since 2013, Chile has relied on this model to develop the legal framework for using lighting products, as well as raising public awareness, particularly by distributing two million new-technology bulbs to low-income communities. At the request of the Magnum agency, Moises Saman visited the capital Santiago to witness the launch of this initiative.

His images show that a step as commonplace as changing a light bulb already has the power to improve everyday life.

Moises Saman,
anenlightened wanderer,


Born in Peru in 1974, Moises Saman grew up in Europe before settling in California to study sociology. In 1998, discovering photojournalists’ work on the Balkans war sparked his vocation. Since then, his multi-award-winning photos of conflicts in the Middle East and the Arab Spring have gone around the world. A member of the Magnum agency, he lives in Tokyo and devotes himself to depicting the problems of post-conflict societies in Asia.

Moises Saman’s images are taken from a collective work produced for UN Environment: for several years, various Magnum photographers traveled the globe to discover local solutions to combat climate change.

Like Moises Saman, you sometimes have to wait for darkness in order for things to reveal themselves. At nightfall, the photojournalist slipped into the southern districts of Santiago to meet the residents of Lo Espejo. In this underprivileged neighborhood, where many families live in the single room of their makeshift house, lighting remains a luxury. Inviting himself into these households recently provided with lowenergy lighting, Moises asked them about their everyday life.

“When all the light comes from a filament bulb hanging from the ceiling, it may seem ridiculous to us to replace it with a less energy-intensive model. But when you are finding it hard to make ends meet, it’s a major saving,” he notes. There is actually nothing anecdotal about these illuminated faces: they are a testament to the improvement in living conditions. From intimate portraits to scenes of local life, the photographer has captured the signs of change with the simplicity and intensity of black and white. All the better to “concentrate on the truth of the moment” when all becomes clear, he says. He will long remember “this man in the penumbra of his shop and his joy when he screwed in the light bulb he had just received.”