Deep sea cables being laid ©

Shuli Hallak

How do you photograph the Internet, its signals, waves and invisible connections? What is there to capture on film? 

Shuli Hallak is an American photographer based in New York City and has spent years travelling out to sea, going underground in New York City, and even getting behind the scenes at Facebook to shed light on the physical infrastructures that anchor the Internet to the Earth

Hallak’s career started with capturing the industrial. Through her lens, she told the story of a landscape of trains, cargo ships, and coal mines, subjects out of the line of sight and consciousness for most people. Once they saw her images they understood the meaning behind them because these are trades we all grew up with. They are easily identifiable in the real world. 

Hallak then turned her attention to the Internet, creating imagery of its physical presence, including underseas cables being laid, workers lining New York City with fiber optic lines, and the multiple servers that give the world Facebook. Hallak wanted to make the unseen visible, and she succeeded, but, to her, something was still missing.

'I thought I could turn my creative approach [making the unseen visible] to the Internet, and the same things would happen, but in Internet terms, the physical infrastructure only points to a higher hierarchy. It’s the tip of the iceberg. It’s the protocols, they’re invisible.'

When Hallak went to photograph the inner-workings of the Internet, she found that most of them remained invisible. They weren’t just unseen, they were literally invisible. 

'It’s really hard to talk about a new industrial era with old tools. I had to put my camera down and learn what code is, and what (Internet) protocols are. I talked with the pioneers of the Internet, and through them, I started to see what they had built, and why.'

Internet cabling being laid in New York City ©

Shuli Halak

A cable tank with cable destined for the deep sea ©

Shuli Hallak

A deep sea cable close up ©

Shuli Hallak

Facebook Data Centre ©

Shuli Hallak

Facebook Server ©

Shuli Hallak

With her newest project, Hallak is turning her lens onto photographing Wi-Fi signals. 

'I’m trying to create a magnetic field with a very specific frequency and then make a visual pattern that shows those wireless signals,' Hallak said. 'Then I’ll use the old-school industrial era photo equipment to help visualise them.'

While they are ethereal in nature — not to mention invisible — with a blend of science, technology and artistry, plus an ample amount of patience and trial-and-error, Hallak doesn’t deem the work impossible to complete.

Hallak points to the next generation as the true future creators who already grasp and inhabit the digital space. As Hallak explains, photography isn’t going to be replaced, just as photography didn’t replace painting. It will simply evolve to mean and mark something else. She predicts that new tools like virtual reality, augmented reality and code will be the tools for making art in the future, and she is ready for it.

The article was written by Darlena Cunha. Reproduced by kind permission of the Internet Society. 

The Internet Society is a global cause-driven organisation governed by a diverse Board of Trustees. The Internet Society works for an open, globally-connected, secure, and trustworthy Internet for everyone.

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