The Light Fantastic Toe

“It is only by virtue of one’s mirror reflection that one can become endowed with an ego, establish oneself as an I. My “ego-identity” comes from my double.” 1
Tom Pnini, The Light Fantastic Toe, 2015, video, 5.43 min, still from video (1)

“It is only by virtue of one’s mirror reflection that one can become endowed with an ego, establish oneself as an I. My “ego-identity” comes from my double.” 1


Through the filter of stereoscopy, I have been working to reexamine the notion that a photograph represents a decisive moment—the incidence of light striking a lens at a precise instant in time. But a stereoscopic photograph consists of two nearly identical images taken with a camera that has two lenses the same distance apart as the human eyes. When the photograph is viewed through a special stereo viewer, the lenses enable the eyes to combine the two images into one, which creates a magical illusion of depth. In my work, I unravel this magical end. I extract the two images from the stereoscope viewer and deliver the constituent parts to the views. The photograph then, in a way, is removed from its original function. The origin of the magic is revealed and appears before us as a duplication—a double of that critical moment of traditional photography, a decisive moment that reproduces itself. A clone, a double a mirror.


The Light Fantastic Toe presents the five minutes leading up to a stereoscopic portrait of a family. The family is taking the portrait just before the patriarch leaves to join the Union army. The video begins with what, ostensibly, appears to be a split screen; however, it is actually a double set with one built next to the other creating the illusion of a stereoscopic image. While a traditional stereoscopic image employs a dual lens to create two similar frames, in my video, I remove this second lens and duplicate the actual scene in real life: identical twins play two separate roles, acting in the two identical sets, which themselves are replicas of a 1860’s New York apartment The portrait becomes no longer of one family, but it is in fact of two families—identical and different. Each family poses in front of a similar path, a similar destiny, the prospect of war. As the click of the camera captures an image for eternity, so it records the possibility of death.


“Ever since cameras were invented in 1839, photography has kept company with death. Because an image produced with a camera is, literally, a trace of something brought before the lens, photographs were superior to any painting as a memento of the vanished past and the dear departed.”2


Ballade to the Double, my first in the stereoscopic exploration series, was a distillation of my own experience of being a new resident in a new country through the filter of nature, particularly, the four seasons. It is a journey, figuratively, literally, and personally. In my new video I am trying to metamorphose this personal story into a wider narrative. It is as if I am trying to understand my life as an Israeli immigrant coming from a country that is constantly on the verge of eruption through the linear history of the American Jew. But as the story in The Light Fantastic Toe is told twice, it is simultaneously the Chronicle of a Death Foretold.



1. Dolar, Mladen. “I shall be with you on your wedding-night”: Lacan and the Uncanny. October Magazine

2. Susan Sontag, Regarding the pain of others, Picador

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