On November 20th, Shuli Hallak was a featured speaker at a New Work City event where she treated the audience to a photo journey of the Invisible Networks project. Sharing photographic work from her recent e-book, 325 Hudson: The Birth of A Carrier Hotel, Hallak gave a narrative overview of the way in which core networks of fiber optic cables connect to form the basis of our broadband Internet infrastructure.
Using the example of 325 Hudson, a carrier hotel whose construction she documented in the book, the audience was given a glimpse into the features of a nearby building that plays a significant role in our critical telecommunications infrastructure. By curating a series of her photographs—some as-yet-unseen—Hallak illuminated not just the literal construction of the site, but the wider implications of our witnessing the physical aspect of the Internet.
“As I was doing this project, the thing that kept blowing me away was that … the Internet is a physical place. We think of it in terms of ‘wireless’ – sure, our devices are wireless – but the core networks need to come to a physical place to actually interconnect. This is the physical layer of the Internet. We don’t typically see it, so we don’t think about it. It’s invisible to most of us, an invisible network. But it’s very real.”
Beyond portraying the technical aspect of her findings, she managed to impart a sense of wonder at having seen the Internet—which, for most of us, is largely conceptual—made tangible. “I kept thinking, ‘Wow, this is actually real. It’s almost like The Matrix. It’s physical, it exists. It doesn’t just work by magic.’”
While Hallak’s photographs seek to transform the Internet-as-concept into an accessible, visible reality, her discussion about the project is highly conceptual. “In the industrial age, the infrastructure that we needed, in order to make things and to move things, was electricity and transportation. Now, we need the Internet, the broadband infrastructure, in order to make and to move. If we don’t have an understanding of how it all works, we’re at a disadvantage.”
There were some lighthearted moments. After a series of dramatic high-resolution photographs depicting brightly lit work sites with immense wheels of new fiber being carefully unraveled, the audience was presented with a blunt image of a open manhole filled with an unwieldy tangle of dirty time-worn cables. Hallak wryly commented, “That, too, is our critical infrastructure.”