Composite Characters: Peter Funch’s Fictionalized New York

Courtesy Peter Funch and V1 Gallery
Courtesy Peter Funch and V1 Gallery

As a Danish transplant living in New York, photographer Peter Funch began creating a series of panoramic, composite images on the streets of his adopted city in 2006. The result is his project Babel Tales Redux, now on display at the V1 Gallery in New York. The 40 photographs represent a five-year meditation on human behavior, coincidence, repetition and the interstitial area between fiction and reality.

“I did not formulate Babel Tales before I started photographing, but I had some elements I wanted to work around, like making a larger document about human behavior and photographing over time from the same place,” Funch said. While shooting on Chambers and Church streets in Tribeca, the photographer noticed someone reading, another talking on the phone and a third person smoking a cigarette. “I thought it would great if everybody was smoking in one photo,” Funch said. “I put it together in the computer, and it was magical to see what it did when everybody in the photo did the same thing. It was like adding fiction to documentary.”

The question “What if?” became the driving force behind the series: “What if people where doing the same thing, looking up at the same place, what if it was only kids, what if everyone was behaving within the same phenomenon,” Funch said.

While the photographs were taken in real places with real people in the frame, the images are, in fact, composites – multiple pictures take over the course of several days. “I find the place with the right flow and types of people, and I start photographing,” Funch said. “Most times I can see after three to five days if it is going to work. If yes, I continue to photograph for another five to 10 days depending on the location.”

After shooting a scene, an arduous process in its own right, Funch then had to edit anywhere from 1,000 to 10,000 images depending on the theme and location. After making an initial selection, Funch would begin to “fictionalize” the images—choosing a background and adding the “characters” to the precise location in which they were photographed.  Final post-production for each image would take the artist from one to three days of work. But, Funch said, “The long process was also very satisfying.”

The depth in the images are derived from the fact that Funch was inspired by ideas and media approaches other than photography, including film, novels and painting. Everyday events also played a role. “Coincidence in daily life will always surprise you,” he said. When the recession began in September 2008, the photographer would regularly journey to Wall Street on Fridays to make pictures for the series. On one such Friday, which happened to be Halloween, people on Wall Street were dressed up in costume. “One guy was dressed up as Patrick Bateman (the protagonist from Brett Easton Ellis’s novel American Psycho),” Funch said. “The combination of protesting people (in the background) and Halloween outfits is complete miscommunication, which adds another layer to the theme of the image.”

Babel Tales Redux, Funch’s first solo show, runs through October 8, 2011, at the V1 Gallery, hosted by KWPF space, 558 W. 21st, New York, New York, 10011

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