Photographer Gail Albert Halaban on Being A Peeping Tom

Gail Albert Halaban Paris Stories

Photographer Gail Albert Halaban creates sprawling urban landscapes that include the private lives of strangers captured through their windows. Is she just another peeping tom pushing the boundaries between privacy and art, or does she have a more noble purpose? Hit the jump to hear it in her own words.

Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban made a splash with her 2009 book that peered into the apartments of her neighbors in New York City, Out My Window. She received an invitation from M, the magazine section of Le Monde, to continue her work in Paris and her second book, Paris Views was born.

Listening to Gail talk, you get a real sense that she is looking for something more than a simple peep into people’s private lives. Knowing that everyone is aware that they’re being photographed, the scenes seem less invasive and the images speak to the a larger issues of lonliness and city life.

Here’s Gail’s own words:

I like to look into people’s windows. At first I know it sounds kind of creepy, many people may even think it’s illegal. But when you see my photos of Paris you will realize I’m a friendly window watcher.In 2009 I created a series of photographs of new york. And In 2012 “M,” the magazine section of Le Monde invited me to create a body of work in Paris.

My work is inspired by the sleepless nights that I had as a young mother. I held my baby at the window in the middle of the night searching the windows of my neighbors for connection to break the solititude.

I’m not the only one who looks into windows. As Baudelaire tells us in his poem, windows, “What we can see out in the sunlight is always less interesting than what we can percieve taking place behind a pane of window glass. In that pit, in that blackness or brightness, life is being lived. Life is suffering life is dreaming.”

For me the windows are fragile borders between the familiar and the unknown. Between the rushing noises of the city and the timeless quiet of private lives. Their cinematic stages, their intimtate domestic scenes unfold. The urban experience, so often said to breed lonliness, is the focus of my work. A way to share my realization that even alone we never need to be lonely.

I photograph from one residence into the window of another with the consent of both parties using a normal focal length lens. The process of making the photographs connects neighbor to neighbor. Creating community against the lonliness and the overpowering scale of the city. Both sides of the view meet and talk through the making of the photograph, though the photographs initially seem voyeuristic in approach.

Above all this project is about my desire to connect with my subjects and their desire to connect with their neighbors. Creating a sort of “mise en abyme.” Even though these people really live where i photograph them, I intentially want to blur the line between reality and fantasy.

The city demands that we trade off privacy and lonliness for community that once joined surrounds us always. This book will inspire you to connect with your neighbors. A more connected society will create a more vibrant culture.

StreetShootr’s Take

Gail’s work reminds me of Yasmine Chatila whose work appears in The World Atlas Of Street Photography. But the fact that Gail’s subjects are aware of her presence makes her work more like portraits than stolen moments.

She creates an interesting vision of the city as both a collector and seperator of individuals. The order she instills on the expansive cityscapes through formal composition brings another layer to her insightful exploration of city life.

What do you guys think? Is peering into the windows of strangers (with or without their permission) appropriate? Or is this just another photographic cliche that has yet to be copied on a large scale? Post your comments below and keep the conversation going!

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