It all started when photographer Gail Albert Halaban’s daughter Zoe turned one in 2005, and her neighbours from across the street sent balloons and flowers to celebrate. She trained her lens on opposing windows, putting on full display the intimate, unguarded moments of people in their homes. But it’s not a voyeuristic exercise. Instead, the protagonists are fully complicit in the making of what are – in fact – carefully staged images of their private lives, blurring the lines between reality and fantasy.
Behind the work lies what Albert Halaban calls a “craving to connect” in an increasingly impersonal world. “I feel like there’s this magic that happens when you can bring this gap between a window space, and it’s a way we can connect with people from all over the world without going very far,” Albert Halaban said at her New York home.
Her project Out My Window has flourished to encompass more than 15 cities and an upcoming Aperture Foundation book on various locales in Italy that will be her second in the series. There’s even a play in the offing that riffs on the conversations between people who may have watched each other grow up and age for years without ever meeting until Albert Halaban brought them together.
The narrative behind these vignettes imbued with the tragicomic nature of the human condition is deliberately left open to interpretation. In every case, the windows serve more as gateway than boundary, with dramatic lighting inspired by the meticulous approach of Bernice Abbott. “We’ve all been living in solitary confinement in front of our screens, and if we just looked out the window, not only would we be meeting our neighbours, but we’d be seeing the world because there’s such diversity,” said Albert Halaban.
Meeting strangers and then connecting them with one another is a daunting task, one made more complex by the cultural norms of the various communities Albert Halaban has visited, from New Yorkers to Istanbulites, Buenos Aires porteños and Amsterdammers. “In Paris, people were totally against it in the beginning” and would say “that’s got to be illegal, the tax man will come get me if I let you photograph my stuff,” she recalled. “Then when it became hip and cool, people were totally into it.”
Gail Albert Halaban: Out My Window. George Eastman Museum, Rochester, New York. Until 1 January. For more information, click here.
1. Gail Albert Halaban Out My Window. © Gail Albert Halaban
2. Gail Albert Halaban(American, b. 1970). Rue Jouye-Rouve, Paris-20e, 2013. Inkjet print. © Gail Albert Halaban
3. Gail Albert Halaban(American, b. 1970). Rue de Douai, Paris-9e, 2013. Inkjet print. © Gail Albert Halaban