How do you make friends in a big city? Despite brushing shoulders with hundreds of strangers every day, it’s easy to feel like a ship at sea. Anonymity can be comfortable, though, which is why — for many of us at least — the desire to connect rarely propels us beyond a voyeuristic curiosity about the neighbors. The lit, open window quickly becomes a lozenge for loneliness.
This suspended state of communion is something we can all identify with. It simmers through the paintings of Edward Hopper, films like Rear Window and Amelie, and the writings of people like Charles Baudelaire and Paula Fox. More recently, photographer Gail Albert Halaban has mined it to great effect in her series VIS-à-VIS, Paris, which features cinematic scenes of domestic life frozen within the city’s bright window frames.
Collected in Gail Albert Halaban: Paris Views, a stunning monograph recently published by the Aperture Foundation, the photographs build on Halaban’s earlier, New York-centric series Out My Window. She told Hyperallergic, “When I first moved to NYC, I had a young baby and spent many sleepless nights looking out my window and was never lonely, as there are so many windows through which I could make friends.” Halaban used photography as a way to actually meet the people she kept seeing. “I was looking for connection,” she explained.
Before shooting, she spent time installing extra lighting in the homes, which helped her to get to know the residents who served as models in the staged photographs. They also got to know their neighbors, since Halaban shot the images from a window across the way. And at the end of every photo session, they’d all uncork a bottle of wine to celebrate. “Meeting people is a huge part of it,” she said. “Many friendships have blossomed from this.”
While Halaban’s photographs don’t capture that personal connection per se, they do envelop the viewer within a larger sense of community from which real companionship can grow. As Cathy Rémy wrote in Le Monde, the newspaper that first commissioned the images, “Little by little, the universal takes over the individual, to better remind us that our place is here among others.”