Peeking Inside Windows & Frames

Summer of 1990, New York — Our documentary film budget was tight and so we were staying in a budget hotel. The hotel’s one redeeming feature was a fantastic Italian restaurant on the adjoining corner. After a delicious dinner, we dreaded returning to our tiny room that demonstrated the owner’s utter lack of interest in decoration. To top it off, it was a hot and muggy night and the room had no air-conditioning. We didn’t dare turn on the overhead light.

William stretched out on the bed. I took off a layer of clothing and sat in my slip, as close to the open window as possible. Across the street, no more than 30 feet away, was a spacious apartment with huge windows. Brightly lit, I could see everything but the front door. The living room was on the right, kitchen in the background, and to the left through double doors was the bedroom.  The living room was sparsely furnished  — white couch, a glass coffee table, and two matching overstuffed upholstered chairs. The occupant, a man in jeans and white button-down shirt was enjoying a cocktail. Suddenly, he put his drink down, crossed the room and disappeared to where I assumed the front door was, and re-entered with a woman. Dressed in a business suit, she walked in carrying a stack of big books. He gestured to the coffee table for the books, which she set down before sitting in one of the chairs. She glanced around at the space with an enthusiastic smile. He sat on the couch and waited as she opened one of the big books and tilted it so that the man could see the page. She opened to another page and tilted again. This went on for quite awhile. I felt like I was watching a play in my very own box seat. By then, I had figured out that that the woman was an interior decorator who had arrived with sample books and swatches.

Slowly but surely, I detected a shift of attention from pages to each other.  And then the woman joined the man on the couch.  All of a sudden they were kissing. This is when I nudged a dozing William and told him that there was an interesting story going on outside our window…

I have always loved windows.  I love it when we take walks at night in the neighborhood and I catch glimpses of people’s lives through their windows. Windows act as picture frames, drawing the eye to focus on a specific area. Life turns into a painting.


“Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer”

Look at this painting titled “Portrait of Jeanne Kéfer” by Fernand Khnofpp (Belgian, 1858-1921). Most images of this painting do not include the frame, which I think adds such an important dimension.  The Getty Center’s description states that Jeanne Kéfer was the daughter of the artist’s friend.  The curator’s note says, “Khnofpp used his academic training to create elegant, modern images suggesting subjective states of mind. The adult-size door frames the girl’s small figure, and the edge of the floor tips down to the right, evoking a child’s perceptions of a world scaled for grown-ups.” (In fact, the tipped floor made me feel like I was taking a crooked photo.) I think the window-like frame takes the artist’s subjectivity to a new and interesting level, as it emphasizes and draws attention to viewers’ subjectivity as they “peek inside the window.”


  • Andy McEwan

    Fascinating post, Pamela, combining work by one of my favourite Belgian Symbolist painters, the concept of the frame in how we look at pictures (and life?) and a touch of voyeurism too! Of course, as a film-maker, you’ll be very accustomed to seeing the world in frames. Your account, inevitably I suppose, also reminded me of “Rear Window” – frames within frames.

    • TwointheMiddle

      William has always said I am a bit of a peeping tom. I do not deny it. I absolutely love windows. That’s why I love an old-fashioned viewfinder on a camera. It’s much like a tiny window. Long ago, we lived in an apartment in Washington DC that was just like “Rear Window.” Oh my goodness, the things we saw. When we crossed paths with our “window neighbors” on the Metro, we all politely pretended we did not recognize each other when some of us knew some rather intimate details about the other(s).

  • Grandmama

    I especially like this story because it’s another way to learn how we are. Uncovered windows provide intermittent transparencies into daily life.

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