Light Golems
Light Golems

I love this photograph.  It is buy Gerald Figal and I saw it in the f295 group in Facebook and was taken aback by it.  It does all the things I want a photograph to do.  It is mysterious and obvious at the same time.  It is of something that I have seen many times and yet also of something that I could not perceive without the aid of a camera. It is a 10 minute exposure using a pinhole camera of people on an escalator or travelator.  An experience so mundane in itself that very few people might consider pointing a camera at it.  At a more conventional exposure of say, 1/100 it might freeze people and you might get an interesting shot of some momentary extraordinariness. At 1/25 you might get the beginnings of some nice blur.  At 30 seconds you might get bands of colour, but at 10 minutes the human form has been deconstructed and reconstructed by the overhead lights into a uniform humanoid shape that reminds me of the Jewish golem.

Golems were usually made from clay, like the Old Testament Adam. However, being human made, they lacked the spark of the divine.  They were lumpen, amorphous, had no speech, no free will.  They were agents of human wish fulfillment borne of necessity amidst the irrational violence of  pogroms; to be disposed of when the danger had receded (it never fully passes which is why the golem of Prague still sleeps in the Old New Synagogue to come cameloting back if it was ever needed again).

There is something rather sad about the golem, called into being on the wish of a human, deactivated at will.  I imagine modern golems be more like Aldis’ Supertoys than pitiless protectors.  This image accommodates the two kinds.  There is something of the conveyer belt about the motion of the blurry figures, they appear to be floating torsos. I think this is an escalator but the trajectory appears horizontal which adds the illusion as if they are part way through the production process.  Each figure is condensed into the average.  All traces of personality are gone replaced instead with a featureless glow. Those forms are in fact the accretion of light on the individuals passing directly beneath the spotlights above.  Because the exposure is so long, the small amount of extra light that fell on each person mounts and gradually the shape accumulated on the film at specific points.

Ultimately you would not ever be able to see this without the photographer and his camera.  You could stand by any escalator for ten minutes and not take your eyes off the steady flow of people, but your eyes are too good, your brain too quick to let you see this.  I have no idea if Gerald Figal knew this would happen or he was just letting the camera do it’s thing but i am very glad he did.  We don’t always know what we are looking at and that’s why we need cameras.

More of Gerald Figal’s photos can be found here:

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