The lives of others. Do they ever get old? No matter how much we gripe about the crowds and the lack of privacy here in New York, our eye is still inevitably drawn to the scene unfolding in the apartment across the street. Photographer Gail Albert Halaban plays with the thrill of the voyeur in Vis-à-Vis, a series that features knowing subjects posing in their own apartments. From what Gail told us at the opening of Vis-à-Vis at Edwynn Houk Gallery last Friday, the pictures are only the beginning.
Why do we like to look into other people’s apartments?
Gail Albert Halaban: I think we all just crave company and want to reach out to people around us. I think we’re just curious who these people are, if we have something in common and find a way to connect.
In cities, we’re often in public settings and have to claim our private space. In these works, the two become conflated.
Gail Albert Halaban: That’s right, the public space is not private anymore. And the private space isn’t public anymore. That’s one of the things I like about New York—you’re never alone. The city can be lonely but it doesn’t have to be. You can reach out and connect to other people.
So do you see these as optimistic works about connecting to people?
Gail Albert Halaban: It’s not the pictures themselves that I see as optimistic, it’s the relationships that have happened after the camera. People have become friends, like those two people [points to photograph] went to India together after they met from this project. People became friends and people met their neighbors because of the project.
I love the pictures, but I love them as visual objects. I think about light, form, shade, color, all the things you would in a painting, but then the project lives on after the picture in the relationships that are created.
Why did you stage the photographs?
Gail Albert Halaban: I almost didn’t become a photographer—I was pre-med in college—and one of the reasons was I always bothered by the word “shoot” somebody’s picture, “take” somebody’s picture. There’s such an aggressive quality to photography that turned me off. So I decided if I was going to make art, I needed to do it in a way that wasn’t aggressive. Asking people and having them be willing participants and collaborators in the projects is really important to me.
There’s one picture that really stands out—the one that takes place inside. The viewpoint of all the other pictures is from one apartment looking out into another.
Gail Albert Halaban: The project actually started in people’s apartments, looking out. That picture is there to invite you to think about what you see out your window. You can stand there and look out with her and imagine yourself doing the same thing.
Tell us a little bit about the picture with the two women on different floors, both holding their arm up.
Gail Albert Halaban: I love how in these multi-floored buildings we have so much in common, but we rarely know each other. They seemed so similar to me—they’re about the same age, they were both studying for finals in school, but they had never met before this project. That’s important to me, to bring people together.
Gail Albert Halaban: I’m doing it all over the world. Paris is the city all New Yorkers love, so it was perfect for New York. Parisians thought this idea was crazy and that only a crazy New Yorker would do it.
Vis-à-Vis was on view until July 10, 2015 at Edwynn Houk Gallery, New York