Window to the World
A photographer turns to Skype to capture at-home portraits of prominent producers.
Like James Stewart's character in Rear Window, London-based photographer Pål Hansen has been stuck at home with his camera, and with it, he has been exploring the world beyond his four walls.
Shortly before stay-at-home orders were issued last month due to the pandemic, he conceived his "Rear View Window" project, inspired by the Hitchcock film.
Since that time, Hansen has been shooting subjects around the world, via Facetime and Skype, and for emmy, he photographed the writer-producers seen on these pages.
From his home in the borough of Hackney — where he lives with his wife, their nine-year-old and six-year-old boys, and a hamster — he discussed (via email) his work and life under lockdown with emmy editor Gail Polevoi.
What has staying at home been like for you?
I have been home-schooling my kids since the beginning, whilst trying to come up with ways of working.
I thought the stay-at-home would be long and boring. I was looking forward to dealing with all the things that I have been wanting to do for a long time — sort out the loft, catch up with lots of work, tidy, DIY, gardening….
However, I found that home schooling is not only time- consuming, but also quite stressful. Then I decided to reinvent my role as a portrait photographer and have come up with my own project.
How did it evolve?
A week before lockdown, I started looking into taking portraits of people in isolation. The idea was that we are maybe more isolated than ever, yet the world is more together than it has ever been. We are now all fighting the same battle.
I started putting feelers out, calling people from all over the world. I ask a few questions and then direct them into a portrait. I feel like the protagonist in the Hitchcock film, stuck at home, wanting to see into other people's homes and situations.
What exactly happens during these phone calls?
First, I have a short conversation, so we are at ease with each other. I do, after all, have to make the talent relaxed while posing to a phone or laptop. I then explain the process of taking a Skype portrait before I get them to show me around their house or flat, so I can find the locations that work aesthetically.
How have your subjects responded?
Everyone has responded very well. I find that the process is not much different than meeting in person. It is still my role to make people feel at ease.I need them to trust that I can achieve a good result and control the shoot.
Have you encountered any problems?
The main problem with portraits taken over Skype is the quality of the images. I have, however, learned to embrace this. I now feel it is a part of the story and helps to tell of the situation we are in.
I have photographed people in isolation from the beach in Samoa to a flat in London. In my personal work, I sometimes have had language issues, but I find that this can be overcome in most cases with a little goodwill.
Of course, in your standard portraiture, your own photo does not appear in the image….
I'm not sure I like this. I prefer being behind the camera — invisible as a person but visible in terms of my visual ideas.
How do you see the project continuing?
It will keep on until the isolation is no longer. I am still looking for people to take part from all over the world. And I'd like to see if I can get more spontaneous moves in the images — that's how many of my portraits often are, and I'd like to introduce more of that to this set as well.
We are living through history at the moment. This time will influence our world for centuries, and I think it's important to be part of documenting it and coming up with creative solutions to show who we are today.
Look for more images by Pål Hansen in the next issue of emmy. To view his personal work, go to Instagram @rear.view.window.
This article originally appeared in emmy magazine, Issue No. 3, 2020
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