Inspiration to Process: Gail Albert-Halaban

0Share

From her commercial work, to her tableaus of motherhood, to the internationally successful series, “Out My Window,” Gail Albert-Halaban has one goal: “I think of everything I do as a way to build community.”

Cory Rice

Her earliest works were explorations of social groups, ones she knew very well—high school seniors, and ones she was just getting to know—the black-tie parties of her then home, Los Angeles. “This Stage of Motherhood” was the series that brought her first significant recognition from the fine-art world and it seems clear, since she was a new mom at the time, how these staged narratives explored but also created a community. Despite the subjects being primarily from upper middle-class suburban environs, anyone going through the early years of parenthood can recognize themselves in these scenes, and more than just offer descriptions, the images proffer dialogue with the viewer.

From "This Stage of Motherhood" by Gail Albert-Halaban
From "This Stage of Motherhood" by Gail Albert-Halaban

As her commercial work in Los Angeles grew from her art practice, she incorporated the idea of community as much as possible, for example, staging workaday scenes of women with “perfect hair” for shampoo advertisements. She also noted that collaborating with a team, creating a small community of artists, was her favorite aspect of commercial photography.

The project for which Albert-Halaban is most recognized, however, is “Out My Window,” and it is with that in mind, she allowed us to photograph in her family’s own New York City apartment, which serves as her workspace, and also from vantage points that reference these urban stories.

Cory Rice

Inspired by staring out her window during late-night feeding sessions with her newborn, as well as a kind gesture from a neighbor across the street who had been seeing into her apartment for years, she recognized a common desire to connect with neighbors through windows, which she describes as both “a boundary and a gateway, connecting viewer and viewed.” Her images from this series, which was born in New York City, and has had incarnations (and books) in Paris, Venice, Istanbul, and Buenos Aires, are shot from one residence into the window of another “with the consent of both parties and using a normal focal length lens.” On first glance, these shots may seem voyeuristic, but they are always a collaborative process and are “about my desire to connect with my subjects and their desire to connect with their neighbors.”

From "Out My Window, NYC" by Gail Albert-Halaban
From "Out My Window, NYC" by Gail Albert-Halaban

While the photos from “Out My Window” are often grand in scale and set in cities many would love to visit, they are not about the beautiful locations. “Yes,” she admits, “it’s a great way to live vicariously, but it’s not about the view itself. I do like sky, light, and color, Rothko is my favorite painter, but the real moments in my photos are quotidian.”

And it’s true, there are layers to her work—one slowly works past the view and the architecture into a subject’s private space, and this is where the kinship is found. “In the end, it’s not about me meeting a neighbor, it’s about me helping to build a community. If I just learn about someone, that’s fine, but if I make these tableaux, others will experience them and become part of a growing community and perhaps even interact with it.”

When asked about her specific process in this series, about what she creates within the frame, she explains, “I am meticulous, but what I also love about photography is that magic accident. “I will scout for the best view, but the light of the day is not my most important concern. It can be almost like directing a play. I like reality to inspire me, and I won’t change much within the apartments.”

Cory Rice

At the beginning of this project, she would find locales and vistas by asking friends if they had interesting views of their neighbors, but since the New York series was first published in 2009, ideas have been suggested by the subjects themselves; folks will ask to photograph their view and she will approach the neighbor to get permission and set the stage. Again, growing community.

“I want to find a way that my photos are always a collaborative process, it isn’t me deciding how things should look.” To that point, when her work switched from 4x5 film photography to medium format digital and she was being invited to more cities than she could visit, Albert-Halaban took a bold step and started sending her camera to people, having them set it up at the window, while she would control framing, exposure, and ultimately the shutter from her laptop via Capture One software. Again, collaboration, albeit virtual.

From "Out My Window, Italy" by Gail Albert-Halaban
From "Out My Window, Italy" by Gail Albert-Halaban

Asked about risk (not that of sending of a $20K camera to a virtual neighbor) and the confidence to take chances on a new photo series, Albert-Halaban recalls, “when I started the “Out My Window” series, it was for fun. I was working primarily as a commercial photographer and had a new baby. I would shoot two or three views per week but didn’t think about it as a project until I had shot fifty images.”

And now, after focusing her lens overseas for many years, she has plans to revisit “Out My Window” back in the New York City of massive real estate developments like Hudson Yards. She is also developing a project which examines the loss of natural community spaces, such as the schoolyard, stoop, and even the street, which are vital to a healthy urban democracy. For her, this project seems to be the larger aesthetic challenge because the work will have an “untouched” quality, with images to be finalized completely in-camera. This certainly comes with risks, but with a goal of forming yet another circle of collaborators risk is mitigated, hopefully becoming a joyous communal effort.

We wrap up our conversation with a question about her post-production process and while she will work on her images after capture, she is not a huge fan of Photoshop. For her, the spirit of the photo is created when the shutter is clicked—“that is the moment when everyone is communicating together.”

Gail Albert-Halaban is represented by the Edwynn Houk Gallery in New York and Jackson Fine Art in Atlanta.

Original images for this article were taken with the FUJIFILM GFX 100 Medium Format Mirrorless Camera.

Close

Close

Close