Thursday, November 12, 2009

Confession: Window-Watching

I found myself completely entranced this morning by an article in today's Home section of the New York Times: Window Watchers in a City of Strangers.The piece elegantly peers into the lives of New York residents who watch their neighbors through their windows. Practices that might seem unsettling to outsiders are approached here as a reality of life for many New Yorkers, whose view out their windows often directly faces the private lives of neighboring strangers. The article introduces us to artists who find comfort in watching other artists work late at night; dueling dinner parties; family gatherings, and of course, sex and death. The resulting collage is a gentle look at a few much bigger questions: What's at the core of city living? Do collections of individuals whose lives surround one another's comprise a sort of family? Why do we watch other people, or why don't we?

"The artist Gail Albert Halaban explores the topic in a series of staged photographs, like the one above of a building on Third Avenue."

I admit to being a voyeur of sorts. I love glimpses into windows at night and enjoy seeing and listening to pedestrians on the sidewalk below my office window. While some might take a Big Brother approach to this sort of behavior, I feel more like a benevolent observer. Human behavior is fascinating to me, always, and I'm endlessly curious about people. The pitter-patter of conversation, pots clanging at the next place over... those sounds have always been comforting to me. And, ooh, I like the color of their walls... Ah, they're cooking together! See what I mean?

Peeking into other people's lives reminds me of one of my favorite quotes, courtesy of Mark Twain: "Inside of the dullest exterior there is a drama, a comedy, and a tragedy." I suppose, for me, glimpsing even the smallest of behaviors is a way to write these bigger stories in my own mind. And it's worth noting that I only enjoy watching strangers, not people I know.

Tell me: are you a window-watcher as well?

* For illustrations of some celebrated New York residents' views, see "Personal Views of the City," a slideshow featuring the work of Matteo Pericoli. There are so many gorgeous photos in the article, as well, but unfortunately only two of the them are in the online version.

PS: This discussion reminds me of The Lives of Others, an absolutely brillliant film. Netflix immediately.


  1. We live in a high rise in downtown Long Beach and we can see into approx. 40 other units around us. I'm always checking out decor, what people are up to, etc. I've noticed that our one neighbors always eat at like 10 PM.

  2. Not going to lie - when we were at L & D's in NYC, I loved looking right across and seeing others so close in the windows - I feel like it makes big cities seem more communal and close-knit. And being immodest myself, I wouldn't feel weird if others were "looking in on me" from time to time, so long as it wasn't Peeping Tom behavior.

  3. Oh, absolutely 100%! While most people would be stoked that their neighbors put up a nice wooden fence in their backyard, I was disappointed! I love seeing what people are up to. It's so fascinating.

  4. HAHAHA!!! Holy cow, I was JUST having this conversation with some gals last night. D. had a pair of cheap binoculars out the other day that he had set on our windowsil the other day and was like "i mean, i get the checking out the digs of others and stuff, but when polite company comes over...those things have to go." Its not in a peeping tom kind of way, but it is so interesting to see people in their natural habitats just going about their daily lives. I, of course, like to check out the way they decorate their respective apartments!

  5. Yep, I'm a Nosanne, as my college friends and I dubbed it. I always feel like others are leading more fascinating lives than mine. Of course, who's to say people aren't thinking that of my life! Like Kate, I'm immodest and usually keep the blinds open at all times. I like the natural light. And if someone happens to see what I'm up to in my apartment, good for them!

  6. Hi,
    I have a question, I read your post on NOLA and it was right on time. My SO wants to move there and at frist I resisted. I visited for the first time last week and I totally fell in love with the city. I also visited some of the places you suggested. I know I don't "know" you but I was you think that NOLA is a good start for a young couple. I don't know anyone in NOLA but I do appreciate the charm of the city. Just wondering what would you do if you were in my situation. I plan to apply to law schools in NOLA if that at all helps. Ahhh I just have the jitters I guess:(

  7. As a resident New Yorker for the last (almost) 11 years, I have to say I have seen nearly everything. This is when I am thrilled I have your email address... as I am sending you a photo of my most interesting experience in "people watching" out my bedroom window.

    Exhibishionists and voyeurs have a wonderful time in the City because of the close proximity of buildings and lack of bushes, trees and fences.

    I happen to love looking out the windows into the dark and to see the twinkling lights. It's not like the guy across the street actually will recognize you when he sees you at Dean and Deluca. (If he does, he was using binoculars! If that is the case, then it is getting creepy!)



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