25 February 2024

Neighbors in the Building

Gail Albert Halaban illuminates
strangers’ stories


by Kate Mothes

“In the privacy of your own home” is an often-heard phrase rife with underlying implications. Behind closed doors, in a space you call your own, should anyone else have a say in what you do there? What information might others glean of your day-to-day routines? How much privacy is necessary for safety or comfort? What do your neighbors know? Photographer Gail Albert Halaban examines the thinning barrier between private and public spaces in her ongoing series focused on the comings and goings, habits, and behaviors of city dwellers around the world.

When Halaban moved to New York City from Los Angeles in 2004, she was a new mother and spent many wakeful nights peering out of her apartment at the illuminated windows dotting adjacent buildings. She embarked on what would become an expansive, community-focused, two-decade-and-counting project titled Out My Window, spurred by a note from a flower shop across the street, which sent balloons for her daughter’s first birthday with the note, “Wishing your daughter a happy birthday — it has been fun watching her grow up.”

Initially conflicted about the idea of being observed in such a way by those across the street, she was also fascinated by the idea of keeping an eye on those who lived nearby, blips of their lives unfolding through panes of glass, almost as if on screen. Whether cooking a meal, practicing an instrument, having an argument, arranging an art collection, or myriad other daily activities, Halaban began to capture the interior lives of subjects amidst dramatic urban landscapes.

The artist’s solo exhibition Neighbors in the Building at Jackson Fine Art emphasizes her attention to detail amidst the rich fabric of New York, from the Upper East Side to Chelsea to Brooklyn. Halaban captures the daily activities of people in historic buildings in which the architecture, in addition to its inhabitants, transforms into both subject and stage.

Valentines, East 10th Street, Greenwich Village, 2022.

Voyeuristic at first glance, as if taken spontaneously, Halaban’s images depict neighbors standing around having a drink or working out on an exercise bike, yet each person is outlined by careful lighting through the natural frame of the windows. Peering into each scene, an element of performance emerges—a careful treading of the boundary between reality and fantasy.

Halaban undertakes to contact the residents of each building, learning about their lives and interests. “When I first began this project, I was a little shy—nervous to be too intrusive in people’s lives,” she says. “But as I have done this work for so long, I realized that people are generally so welcoming and interested in being part of the work. They want to share stories with me. They are welcoming me into their homes.” The artist loves to talk to people and to learn more about them, which in turn emphasizes the depth of the collective stories. She adds, “Talking to so many people from so many places, my storytelling has become much more evolved. I have a chance to really get to know the people I am photographing which has helped me create better stories and photographs.”

While Halaban’s lens in Neighbors in the Building is trained on New York City, her work has taken her around the world, where people in Buenos Aires, Paris, Rome, and Istanbul have invited her to share the view out their windows. “This invitation is the crucial step in the work,” she says. “When people invite me, they are my ambassadors, introducing me to people who can be part of the project.”

Currently, Halaban is working on a new book that combines stories and photographs of New York City, and she is using a new platform called JellyJelly to post stories people share with her about what they see out their windows. Neighbors in the Building continues in Atlanta through March 22. Learn more from the gallery, and find more of the artist’s work on her website and Instagram.

Guitar, Upper West Side, 2022.
Break the Fast, Yom Kippur, Upper East Side, 2023.
Shiva, Gilsey House, Nomad, 2023.
Violin and Ping Pong, 2022.
Fishs Eddy, Union Square, 2022.

All images © Gail Albert Halaban

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