"Out My Window" by Gail Albert Halaban (Powerhouse Books)
As cameras pop up everywhere, watching us in our most mundane moments, many have proclaimed our descent into being a surveillance state.
But it's always been so, largely as a consequence of living on top of one another. The suburbs and small towns have the archetype of the neighborhood snoop, but when you live a big city, staring out the window -- and sometimes into other windows -- is just part of your everyday experience.
The photography of Gail Albert Halaban capture this reality, and in her book "Out My Window," her photos work to create a mosaic similar to a group of windows on the side of a building that show that people in a city might be separated, but they are not alone, and one thing they share are their gazes in each other's directions.
Halaban's photos are taken from two basic vantage points, looking inward and looking outward, but then with one subtle variations -- sometimes, they are inward and also looking in ward, neighbor upon neighbor.
This functions like the nexus of all the actions, which also might include a more intimate shot of someone in their apartment with the action of the world sprawling in the background through their window, or the view from the outside, staring up at trying to discern what mysteries of life are hidden behind little squares with the sheer obstructions they sport.
Mysteries aside, Halaban's work has a natural beauty that seems inescapable considering the subject matter. It's all lines and borders, frames, corners, and often darkness with bursts of light that create geometry with cascades of color, orderly prisons with bursts of passion. They are perfect outer shells for what Halaban captures within the confines of these structures, and hint that we may have no choice but to look where we aren't suppose to and try to pierce the secrets -- the containers are beautiful, and so what is inside them holds interest for us.
Certainly, there's a hint of Peeping Tom-ism in all this -- don't worry, Halaban had the permission of her subjects -- but peeping as a common experience, almost involuntary, is really the point. People are both the focus of our attentions and just a part of the landscape, small details in a wider work of art. As humans, we watch. Halaban captures this constancy in our existence, and renders it sympathetic to all parties.
"Payback" (Zeitgeist Video)
More a meditative and philosophical poem than a documentary, Payback is the film adaptation of author Margaret Atwood's non-fiction book, "Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth." The title might make it seem like it's about finances, but that's only marginally the topic. It's best described as being about the symbolism of finances as the measuring instrument of equality, of finances as the combustible spark to conflicts and punishment, of finances as one manifestation of owing something.
The book was a compilation a series of five lectures that Atwood gave in 2008 covering various aspects of fact-based historical and cultural examinations of the nature and practice of debt. For the film, director Jennifer Baichwal, the challenge is to mix segments of Atwood's spoken pieces with stories that examine the manifestations of debt, both ethereal and tangible, into something that is less academic and more lyrical.
To this end, Baichwal juxtaposes several case studies in debt. The most mesmerizing is the tale of Albanian families feuding over property and, thanks to a 300-year-old tradition, causing more dysfunction and despair after a shooting and the call for reparations in the incident.
Also included by Baichwal is an examination of slavery amongst Florida tomato-harvesters and the way that British Petroleum turns their debt for the Gulf oil spill into a further swindle, as well as some personal asides, including a very affecting portrait of an ex-addict who must face the psychological damage his crimes have inflicted on one of his victims.
At root, there is no final eureka about the nature of debt, about the need to demand it between humans or about whether the symbolic manifestations meant to fulfill our need for vengeance or compensation really do, except for the suggestion that it may not be a valuable form of change in the world.
What is apparent is that payback is, as the saying goes, a bitch, but not exactly in the way the saying means it. Payback's a bitch because it's so complicated, sometimes unfair even to both parties and often terribly unsatisfying to the point that the problem it's meant to render solved is very often extended, and painfully so.