Gail Albert Halaban
“For their sanity, they find time for themselves – making them great moms.” That’s photographer Gail Albert Halaban talking about women she admires. That’s the kind of permission we all need, right? Her art is informed by this very compassionate view.
Gail is a highly accomplished photographer represented by the Robert Mann Gallery in New York. Her work has garnered the attention of The New York Times, the New Yorker and Elle Decor. She’s also a successful commercial photogrpaher, but what Gail and I wanted to showcase here are the images she creates for art’s sake. Her perspective – both literally and figuratively – will amaze you.
For me, her series “Out My Window NYC” makes me think about my place in the world. See the video embedded in the interview below
where Gail provides great insight over a slide show of this series.
The scenes in “This Stage of Motherhood” draw out everything from the exhaustion to the elation of being a mom. Dive into her images and her thoughts to see what comes up for you. If you’d like to see more from this thoughtful artist, head to Gail’s website after you visit with her here.
When did you realize you loved photography and at what moment did you realize you could do this professionally?
I have loved photography since my first grade science fair when my mom and I made a pinhole camera out of an oatmeal cereal box. I didn’t decide to do it professionally until after college where I was a pre-med student. I didn’t really think of it as a real job but my parents encouraged me to give it a whirl. I went to graduate school for an MFA instead of Med School.
Can you explain more about how an artist gets picked up by a gallery — How did the Robert Mann Gallery find you and approach you about representation? And when you’re represented, is it for a set amount of time?
My first gallery was the Ariel Meyerowitz Gallery. I approached Ariel with my work – I knew she was the perfect fit for me. I loved the gallery’s program and Ariel had a great reputation as a person. We worked together for a few years until she decided to close her space. She knew Robert Mann would be a great fit for me so she introduced us. There is no set amount of time for a gallery to represent an artist.
Your images in “This Stage of Motherhood” and “Out My Window NYC” are staged and are meant to be in a “heightened documentary” style. Can you explain this method and why you choose it? Do you always work in this style? Are the subjects professional models or just people being shot in their own homes?
I have always loved looking at documentary photography but was frustrated when I used it as my working method. There are often many things that interest me in a scene and it is impossible to put them all into a single frame of a photograph so I use a method that is similar to compositing. I figure out what the things that interest me are – gestures, lights, colors – and then I re-stage a scene so it includes all of those things simultaneously. I will often document a scene with snap shots and then look at these pictures. Then I go back to the scene and direct the action to combine elements from various snap shots.
How did “This Stage of Motherhood” come about and what were you wanting to show through this work?
I have always been interested in photographing my peer group – since my high school newspaper. This is simply a continuation of the interest. Particularly, I am interested in women who seem to have their act together a bit more than I do – it amazes me how the women I photograph can look so great and accomplish so much while taking care of their kids. I have met some incredible women.
People can be so judgmental of mothers and their parenting. Did you think about this as you set up your photos for “This Stage of Motherhood”?
I don’t think of my work as judgmental. There are many real moments of chaos which some viewers assume are judgments. I see my work as showing the reality of parenthood where sometimes things are not picture perfect. I see my pictures as windows into a world of motherhood.
In “This Stage of Motherhood” there seems to be aloofness between the mothers and children. Some of the mothers even look forlorn. Can you talk about this?
My work reflects moments where women find time for themselves in the chaos of life. It is not a documentary where we see a range of what women do with their children. I am showing specific moments in the lives of women who are great, involved mothers. For their sanity, they find time for themselves – making them great moms. I tell you this as I am allowing my daughter to watch TV so I have 10 minutes on a Saturday to sit at my computer. Honestly, if I photographed myself right now, I would be perceived as aloof. This would be one 10 minute window in a day where I have been with my kids since 6 am. The moms in my pictures are not aloof, just balanced.
She is an amazing mom with lots of kids who I had a chance to photograph – I realized she was the perfect subject for my work. Often people assume that the women in my pictures don’t work since I don’t photograph that aspect of their day. Laura was perfect to fill in that narrative gap – we all know how successful she is in her career. This helps viewers understand that when I photograph a mother, I am photographing her doing that one thing – I am not showing her entire life. I have included a few famous working moms for that reason.
Windows are so coveted in New York apartments – only in New York will you find “WIK” (window in kitchen) in a real estate listing. Windows are so important to you that you did your “Out My Window NYC” series about them. What do windows mean to you and what message are you hoping to convey through this work?
I moved to New York and realized you can never be lonely here. You look out the window and you have a relationship with the people you see. I am interested in investigating the relationships people form through the windows.
(Gail narrates a slide show of her “Out My Window NYC” series)
The logistics must have been challenging for “Out My Window NYC” — how did you work it out?
The logistics are 90% of the project. Finding the right scene, relationships between windows and light is really hard. If it was easier, I am not sure the project would be so interesting. It is my struggle to find all the elements that is reflected in the work.
How many photos do you take to get a single image that you love?
The Mom work requires rolls and rolls of film, shooting often for a day to get one picture. The Window work is completely different. I shoot at dusk and only have a few minutes to make the perfect picture. I shoot a few sheets of 4X5 film.
Are any of your images in “This Stage of Motherhood” or “Out My Window NYC” especially poignant for you?
There are 2 pictures that mean a lot to me as my daughter is in them.
You’ve done solo and group shows — when you do a group show do you have a say in which of your works gets selected?
Group shows I am invited to include a specific image or images that the curator chooses.
You have two small children. What’s working for you in terms of balancing work and motherhood?
I wish I could figure out how to balance work and motherhood. I do know that work makes me a better mother and motherhood makes me better at my job but I haven’t figured out the balance. I don’t think I could do either one without the other.
Proust Questionnaire for Gail Albert Halaban:
My favorite snack is: a ripe white peach from the farmer’s market
Don’t ask me to: stay out late
I would put in a time capsule my: Snoopy
My favorite place is: New York, I can be home and on vacation in the same place
When I have a creative block I: eat ice cream
My favorite mantra is: “You get what you get and you don’t get upset.”