This is the world under the influence of electronic devices.
It is an eerie place, filled with people who seemingly look past each other and into empty space. In reality, they are staring into their cellphones, tablets and other screens.
In a series of images for a project called “Removed,” photographer Eric Pickersgill captured that imaginary world, in which the devices we are tethered to have seemingly disappeared, leaving us unmoored and disconnected.
The images are jarring: a family at the dinner table, a couple just married on their wedding day.
They have touched a nerve because we all see ourselves in them, Pickersgill said.
“It’s something that has changed relatively fast in our society,” Pickersgill said. “The project just tries to suspend the moment of this social transition and have people look at it.”
He and his wife are quite literally in the photo, doing what has become something of a nightly ritual —staring into a glowing screen as they lay next to each other in bed.
When he began the eight-month process of completing this project, they tried to kick the habit. Instead of engaging with their phones separately, they tried reading to each other in bed.
Then life kicked in.
“We did that for a while, then she was in medical school and I was in grad school, and we got busy and we were back to our devices again,” he said.
The project isn’t, according to Pickersgill, a luddite’s nostalgia for a simpler time.
“I’m certainly not trying to tell people not to use the device at all,” he said. “I’m saying you should use it when you want to.”
In one case — the just-married couple — Pickersgill said they were staunch defenders of the importance of devices in their lives, partly because they met online.
Pickersgill photographed them on their wedding day after the ceremony when the guests had left and everyone was packing up.
Jimmy had come outside to take a quick smoke break and Michelle joined him on the hood of the car.
Pickersgill asked if they would be willing to participate in his project, and they agreed.
“They were very quick to be like ‘This is how we met,’ and they definitely own that, I think,” he said.
Self-awareness is perhaps the most pervasive theme of the photographs. Each person was asked to fully participate in the project. In some cases, Pickersgill approached people he had observed to be engrossed in their phones, explained his project, then asked them to recreate the scene. He’d then slip the devices out of their hands and snap a photo.
His subjects were “performing” in the photographs — not exploited, something that was important to Pickersgill. And he didn’t use photoshop to remove the devices from the scene.
Each time, he would set up his bulky, film, 4×5 view camera and go to work. It is painstaking work to develop the film, but it came with a major upside: People seemed more willing to participate.
“Having that camera, the view camera, and shooting film gives you a sense of validity,” Pickersgill said. “People are like, ‘You’re an artist. You’re a professional and what you’re doing has got to mean something because you’re doing it in the most difficult way possible.’ ”