Aperture Magazine

The magazine of photography and ideas

The Private Lives of Italians, as Seen Through Their Windows

Gail Albert Halaban invites viewers to consider what can be seen—and imagined—through the windows of their neighbors.

 - July 11, 2019

A continuation of her series, Out My Window, Gail Albert Halaban’s Italian Views (Aperture, Spring 2019) features intimate domestic portraits set against the backdrop of Italian cities. To obtain each image Albert Halaban collaborated with local residents, having them restage activities that their neighbors might normally spy through their windows. Her cinematic, mysterious photographs explore the conventions and tensions of urban lifestyles, feelings of isolation in the city, and the intimacies of home and daily life. “There has been a big loss of the face to face connection,” Halaban states. “I am trying in this work to reclaim that, and give people a motive to go meet their neighbors.”

Here are ten images and accompanying vignettes written by Albert Halaban that invite viewers to thrill in what the artist describes as “friendly voyeurism.”

Superman and Elsa, Piazza del Popolo, Rome

Gail Albert Halaban, Superman and Elsa, Piazza del Popolo, Rome
© the artist

We live in a fairly upmarket neighborhood where people value privacy. You don’t really get to see your neighbors except for this one small moment when people turn on their lights before they remember to close their shutters. A light may go on for just a few minutes, perhaps just a matter of seconds. That’s when you can glimpse your neighbors like fireflies. If you blink for too long you miss them.

Gail Albert Halaban, Birds, Piazza dei Ponziani, Rome 

Gail Albert Halaban, Birds, Piazza dei Ponziani, Rome
© the artist

When the shutters are open, the music floats across the piazza. She dances joyously, her feet barely touching the floor. At dusk it’s enchanting, as if she conjures the birds from the sky to join her in her reverie.

An orange building, with a couple inside one window. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Scooter and Headphones, Via Titoni, Rome, Italy, 2017
© the artist

If they’re lovers I’d be surprised—they rarely talk to each other. When he hears her Vespa pull up outside, he quickly puts on headphones and pretends he’s been watching movies for hours. Are they roommates? Does he owe her rent?

A yellow apartment building, with an elderly couple in one window. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Necklace, Via Pietro Maestri, Milan
© the artist

He puts the necklace on her every morning. Sometimes he must pinch her with the clasp because I see her fussing and pushing him away. He smiles at her lovingly no matter what.

A red building in Venice with the canal below. A masked ball is taking place inside. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Masked Ball, San Polo, Venice
© the artist

For three months every year the palace sits empty, its furniture shrouded with dust sheets, but in January the owner’s son returns from college to wake the place from its hibernation. Tonight he has swapped his usual cargo pants and polo shirt for a black tuxedo and a mask. How wonderful to see the guests arrive by gondolier, the joie de vivre they bring! The palace is alive with the sound of laughter and tinkling piano music, while the prosecco flows like the Canale Grande.

Through a paned window, an elderly woman reads beneath a chandelier. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Reading with the Chandelier, San Polo, Venice
© the artist

I bumped into her once at the theater in the Borghese gardens. Twelfth Night. I greeted her warmly, as if we were old friends. It threw her, I could tell. She was embarrassed, admitting she had a terrible memory for names and faces. I smiled and walked away. I didn’t want to tell her that for over ten years I have gazed from my breakfast table directly into her reading room.

A family prepares dinner in a kitchen. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Family Dinner, San Marco, Venice
© the artist

On Saturday mornings she draws up a shopping list. She checks the fridge and cupboards, returning periodically to scrawl another item on her list. She and her husband do the shopping; her daughters unpack. Each of the girls has a role in these humble rituals—the littlest puts together the insalata while the older girl places the flowers carefully in a vase.

Tiled roofs of buildings beneath a blue sky. In the bottom left corner, a woman wearing a red robe looks out the window. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Red Kimono, San Marco, Venice
© the artist

The first time I glimpsed her I was drawn to her like a Renaissance painting in the Uffizi. There was an unrealness about her. The terra-cotta tiles and pale bricks became the neutral background upon which she had been painted, a perfect counterpoint. She reminds me of Botticelli’s Simonetta Vespucci—the fine features, the way she tucks her hair into the nape of her neck, the red gown.

A white paned window, grandmother, green tree. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Grandma Comes to Babysit, Kalsa, Palermo
© the artist

They were a family—a mom, a dad, two small kids. Of course they still are a family, but the husband? I don’t see him anymore. When he lived there, they used to throw these lavish dinner parties. There was noise and laughter and dancing, then a year of shouting. Now it’s mostly quiet, or at least I don’t hear anything. I don’t see a lot of visitors come and go, just her mother on Tuesday afternoons. She stays until bedtime while her daughter goes out.

A window with red shutters. Inside, a woman and man eating pasta. Gail Albert Halaban

Gail Albert Halaban, Pasta Lunch, Kalsa, Palermo
© the artist

Every evening she spends alone, except for the weekends when her grandson visits. She cooks the same thing for him—roast chicken. It must be a plump bird, because she picks at that carcass all week until he comes around again.

Click here to learn more about Italian Views.

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