13 months + 1 voyeuristic photographer
Photos by Hye-Ryoung Min
Interview by Kristin Oakley
There’s something eerily Rear Window-esque about what’s going on here. A shy photographer perches on a windowsill with a telephoto lens recording the lives of her neighbors for over a year: watching, taking a photo, waiting, watching, taking another photo.
But South Korean photographer, Hye-Ryoung Min, wasn’t just making images. She was watching her own reality show with a silent cast of characters and an unpredictable schedule. In a city of innumerable activities, Min looked to the quotidian and the routine for entertainment and for art, turning the windows of her Prospect Lefferts Gardens, Brooklyn, apartment into five television screens with only one channel.
In her own words:
I’ve always loved to take window seats whenever possible and get lost watching people for hours at a time. I felt more comfortable staying in my place than going out and facing real world.
The first thing I did every morning straight out of bed was grab my camera from the table and look out the window, to see if there were any shows playing. I was mostly obsessed about catching people starting off their days and then again—in a different mood—late afternoon when everyone feels more relaxed.
The Channel is a reference to windows as TV sets and the neighbors and passerby becoming characters of TV shows. I came up with names for each of them and made up story lines for most of them.
This kind of programming in my Channel had a loose schedule and no guarantees that shows would play on time.
I was fascinated by everyday lives and the many moments that we care for the least and don’t even realize they exist. These moments can reveal much more than we think about us, our lives and our relationships.
Anybody would be surprised or uncomfortable if they saw a photo of their backside or a picture of themselves sleeping, because that is something they can’t really see and don’t think about.
For instance, when someone is out on a date having a nice glass of wine, he will try to impress the other with his body language. But will we find that same expression he had on the date when he is lost in thought walking down the street? Or when people are rushing out to work in the morning or dropping off their kids to the daycare center, would they be concerned about how they look? And yet, the behaviors or expressions they have at those moments are truly their own.
I started noticing subtle nuances and differences from day to day. Repetition helped me understand actors’ basic characters; nuance and difference offered me clues into their hidden stories.
My favorite character was the “stylish papa” as I named him. He was clearly the most stylish guy in the block and always looking after trash and recycling, cleaning and taking triple care of his house. However, although spending many hours right outside his home, he seemed a bit aloof and reluctant to interact with others.
In my own imagination, the people who came into my field of vision through the windows became my friends and family. I found myself living vicariously through them, their lives becoming my own.
I sometimes bumped into some of my characters on the street or in the city and I felt like saying ‘how do you do’ and asking about the events I had observed.
The interaction I had with my neighbors only existed in my camera. Once was out on the street, they were no longer characters on my shows.
Throughout it all, I was happy with them, sympathized with them, sometimes pitied them but all based on the stories I created.
My intention was never to break their privacy. What I saw was what anybody could see but just didn’t.