Kevin B. Chen
Eric Staller
Lightunnel, 1977
C-print mounted on plexiglas

Staller presents a series of long time-exposure photographs he created in the late 1970s when we was living and working in New York City, seminal early examples of contemporary light painting photography. Called "The Light Master” by peers, he worked on the streets of the city in the middle of the night, inventing and staging choreographies to create fantastical architectures of volume and light with 4th of July sparklers and movement. Bursting with frenetic energy, the photographs capture these fleeting late night street performances where Staller activated the concrete and asphalt urban fabric with gesture and composition.

“New York City at night was an enchanting place for me. The plazas, bridges, parks and monuments, empty and eerily quiet at night, were dramatic stage sets waiting to be transformed. Transformed by my magic wand: the 4th of July sparkler. Late at night I drove around in a beat-up station wagon, looking for places and ideas to jump out at me. When the moment was right I set up my Nikon on a tripod and planned a choreography with light. One of the first light drawings was Walker Street, outside of my loft building. Each sparkler lasted about a minute, so that was the amount of time I had to make the drawing. I would lock the camera shutter open, light the sparkler and quickly walk down the street, holding the sparkler at curb level, to complete the composition before the sparkler went out. I felt a strong sense of exhilaration, like running the 100-meter dash with a flaming torch! Getting the film back from the lab was even more exhilarating: it was magic, my presence was invisible! There was just this trail of liquid fire. Suddenly I was drunk with the possibilities. I proceeded to outline everything for my photos: cars, trucks, streets, monuments. The energy was packed into one-minute performances. I worked through the night and although I was alone and even lonely, my romance for the city was sweet indeed.

My dreams in 1977 were taking the forms of fantasy architectures of light. I invented choreo- graphies and volumes of light. I remember being impressed by the architectural uses of the human figure in Fritz Lang’s film Metropolis and old Busby Berkeley films, and I began to think of the geometry of my body. By then I found that a 10-minute sparkler was available on special order. I attached one to the end of a broomstick and, using my arm as a compass, scribed arcs overhead as I walked up the middle of the street (Lightunnel). The challenge now was to take it intellectually further with each photo; to wonder what effect this or that choreographic device would produce; and then, to be continually surprised by the result. I mounted 5 sparklers on a broomstick and held it vertically, at arm's length for the 5-minute exposure Ribbon On Hanover Street. It occurred to me more than once that these were performances with light. Crowds of curious garbage men, night watchmen, workaholic Wall Streeters and the homeless gathered to watch the lunatic with the blazing broomstick!“ – Eric Staller

Motion Graphics: In and Beyond the Street

June 13 – August 25, 2012
Intersection for the Arts
San Francisco, CA
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