In 2006, Danish photojournalist Peter Funch set up his tripod on a Manhattan street corner and started photographing people going about their day. One scene he captured showed someone reading, someone on the phone, and someone smoking. Not particularly interesting. But wouldn’t it be great, Funch would later tell an interviewer, if everyone in the shot was smoking? And so was born his Babel Tales series: 40 composited panoramic images of curated, synchronous moments (including one where everyone is smoking) that took five years to produce.
As with other photographers we’ve featured that play with concepts of time, Funch’s series was incredibly labor intensive. After choosing a promising location, he’d shoot for three to five days, then decide if he’d continue. If he did, he’d shoot another five to ten days, producing between 1,000 to 10,000 images for the final composite.
“Composing the images is a lot like painting where you build up the images and keep looking at it again and again. For me, this is where photography is heading, less of a method of passive documentation and more of a means to produce images.”
Funch chose wide aspect ratios for several reasons, all of them relating to cinema: because widescreen mimics how we see things naturally, because he could fit more people into the frame, because his original inspiration for visual storytelling came from movies, and because he believes a widescreen ratio subconsciously communicates to the viewer that what’s being seen is a work of fiction.
Because Babel Tales are both true and constructed images at the same time – they’re fictional documentaries, portraits of individuals lost in private thought, yet collected into like-minded communities.
“I am trying to show another way of finding commonalities between people, outside race or religion or any sort of predefined background. Where does the individual end and the group begin? And how do you define human behavior if this line is blurred?”