Merry Alpern's Hidden Camera

Merry Alpern, "Shopping #3," 1999

Merry Alpern, "Shopping #23," 1999, Cibachrome print, 16 1/2 x 23 in., Bank of America Collection

Merry Alpern (American b. 1955) is best known for creating photographs that personify the act of photographer as voyeur. Her works stray from conventional portraiture because the individuals’ actions and not their identity emerge as Alpern’s prevailing interest. Often violating individuals’ privacy, she conceals a camera or herself from her subject in order to catch uninhibited, intimate moments on film. The resulting, off-kilter images make the familiar appear strange to the viewer through distortion of the subject matter and use of harsh lighting conditions. Not relying on staging scenes or altering the film, Alpern capitalizes on the soft-focused, grainy, and overexposed nature of the images.

The work above and below are from her Shopping series and are currently on view in the Eye Wonder exhibition though May 22. Alpern wandered through department stores, malls and fitting rooms capturing her surroundings on film using a small surveillance camera hidden in her purse.

Merry Alpern, "Shopping #3,"

Merry Alpern, "Shopping #3," 1999, Cibachrome print, 16 1/2 x 23 in., Bank of America Collection

She aimed the camera’s lens through a hole in the bag to tape her shopping activities.  In Shopping #3 we see Alpern’s reflection in a mirror.

Born in New York in 1955, Alpern graduated from Grinnell College in 1977 with a degree in sociology. She has received numerous accolades including the 1995 Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Competition, the 1990 National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship and the 1988 Leica Medal of Excellence. Her works are housed in institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art in Paris.