The Best Views in Paris Are Into Other People’s Windows

Bis rue de Douai, Paris, 9e. 

Gail Albert Halaban

The inspiration for Gail Albert Halaban’s international Rear Window–esque photography series is, like the Hitchcock film, a bit creepy.

In 2007, Albert Halaban, her husband, and their newborn daughter moved from Los Angeles to a loft-style apartment in Manhattan. On her daughter’s first birthday, balloons were sent to the apartment from the florist across the street. There was a note saying how great it had been watching their daughter grow up. The family had never met the florist.

“At first I was really creeped out,” recalled Albert Halaban. “And then I spoke to a friend who has a flower shop on the street and he said that it’s a window, and if you leave your shades open, you should expect people are watching you. And then I realized it was so much less lonely knowing people were watching me. I was curious if other people had gotten that comfort from a window.”

Curious enough that Halaban began seeking out people in New York who would be willing to participate in her project, a cooperative series between both the voyeur and the subject, shot with a medium-format camera; the results were published in the book Out My Window. The images made an impression on the French newspaper Le Monde, which commissioned Albert Halaban to shoot a similar series in Paris.

Quai  Anatole, Paris, 7e.

Gail Albert Halaban

Rue du Guesclin, Paris, 15e.

Gail Albert Halaban

Rue St Bernard, Paris, 11e.

Gail Albert Halaban

“I left for Paris the night before Hurricane Sandy,” Albert Halaban said, noting that although she had power, friends only a couple of blocks away didn’t. “I started to realize that knowing your neighbors was crucial to your survival, and I feel like we’ve lost so much of that. [The project] became about building community and making people have face to face interactions with their neighbors and sort of reclaiming that physical interaction.”

In Paris, like New York, Albert Halaban found people (often on Facebook) who were able to see in their neighbor’s windows and were curious to meet them. She then contacted the neighbors, sometimes by writing letters, other times by dropping off notes with doormen. If everyone was open to the idea, Albert Halaban and the neighbors met, had a glass of wine, and talked about creating a photograph.

Rue du Temple, 3e.

Gail Albert Halaban

Villa Juge, Paris, 15e.

Gail Albert Halaban

Around that time, Albert Halaban also switched from her medium-format film camera to a digital model and added more artificial lighting. Not only did she save money, she was also able to give her subjects more freedom “so people could be people” since she wasn’t forced to shoot at a slower shutter speed required for the film camera. Although the photograph is a re-enactment of what the voyeur was witnessing, Albert Halaban said the images are meant to stir up the imagination of everyone either participating or viewing them.

“I’m hoping if people really look at the pictures they can make up stories and sort of meditate on them and become part of [the project],” she said. “I love that.”

“Vis-à-vis” will be on view at Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York City through July 10. A book of the series, Paris Views, is also available from Aperture.

Rue de la Motte Piquet, Paris, 15e.

Gail Albert Halaban