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From my windows
to other windows

Windows: Part 5

In Edward Hopper’s 'Night Windows' (1928), we see the half-figure of an anonymous woman depicted near the illuminated windows of her apartment at night, unaware that she is being seen by voyeuristic viewers, whether the artist or the spectators of the artwork. Although the viewer could be on the street watching this mysterious and erotic display, the point of view is higher and may suppose it is observed from the window of another building. The painting looks like a frame of Alfred Hitchcock’s film ‘Rear Window’ (1954), where the woman could be a neighbour of the photographer L.B. Jeffries, played by James Stewart. As he spies on his neighbours and gives them nicknames, he discovers a murder by getting his voyeuristic practice beyond ethics. Detective Doyle’s notable quote to Jeff outlines the crossline between private and public space: ‘That's a secret, private world you're looking into out there. People do a lot of things in private they couldn't possibly explain in public’ (min 75). Driven by curiosity, incessant watching can lead one to get entangled in people’s life, sometimes with unimaginable consequences.

In the short film ‘The Neighbors' Window’ (2019), a couple spies another couple’s window and is surprised to discover, in the end, that they were being watched by that same couple all this time. Some people may act driven by impulse rather than common sense, stealing what should not be stolen, our privacy, freedom, and vulnerability. Works by photographers like Merry Alpern (1995), Gail Albert Halaban (2009), Fosi Vegue (2014) or Yasmine Chatila (2016), reveal how controversial it may be accessing anonymous apartments under the cover of the night, unveiling ordinary scenes or, in some cases, sexual activities. The totalitarian society of surveillance is criticised by all of us as free citizens, but when individuals seek to keep an eye on their neighbours with their camera, they are called artists.

What is even more paradoxical is that those who photograph people would certainly not accept being photographed themselves. Drawing the curtain and turning off the light is a plea for privacy, to avoid being seen by others at night, as we never look at just one thing; we are always looking at the relation between things and ourselves […] Soon after we can see, we are aware that we can also be seen. The eye of the other combines with our own eye to make it fully credible that we are part of the visible world’ (Berger, 1972, p.9). In this given context, Duchamp’s ‘Fresh Widow’ (1920) with the panes of glass covered in black leather could shield us from the outside world but could also confine us in our solitude, much like a window facing a wall. While I may have watched my neighbours at times, as the deranged artists described earlier, I have avoided them in most of my photographs, capturing only their silhouettes and focusing on interiors as if their windows were the frame of an artwork, a metaphor borrowed from René Magritte’s ‘The Human condition’ (1933) and his series of broken windows.

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