Peter Funch’s scenes of the hive – an interview

Peter Funch‘s photography project titled Babel Tales merges documentary photography with manipulated photography. Peter stands and waits on street corners for days on end in the same position, photographing individuals walking down the street and then merges each individual within an a concept-driven collective (the neo-collective). The individual is forced into hive consciousness, fact and fiction collide to create a clever series of photographs that smartly uses image manipulation technology.

Peter Funch, Babel Tales, Exigent State. Photo courtesy of the artist

These artificial communities constructed by Peter are surreal and often whimsical, but can be deeply unsettling to someone that questions the hive mentality. Peter has created street scenes that never actually existed in reality and at first glance you’re convinced that they are simple street shots, but nothing could be further from the truth.  I came across Peter’s work in Chelsea on one of my random art walks around New York City. Peter answered my questions via email.

Peter Funch, Babel Tales. Following the Followers. Photo courtesy of the artist

What kind of boy were you?
As I young boy I was extremely curious. I would tear everything apart just to figure out how it was made. I was looking at the technology behind the userface. Then for a while I became quite a trouble maker. If nothing was happening I would try to make it happen. It was at times a very restless energy.


When did the camera come into your life?
My Dad took lots of pictures so there was always a camera in the house. When I was about 18 or 19 I started to become very interested in using the camera myself. At that point I had no idea where I was going with my life, but I really enjoyed taking pictures and fell into studying photojournalism at university. Photography was the first thing I was excited about in my school time.

Peter Funch, Babel Tales, Informing the informers. Photo courtesy of the artist

How do you decide on a street location in NYC?
Sometimes I choose very specific locations to get one image. In many of the images it is the location that defines the scenario. Others are more open. I usually pick places that are very crowded with a diverse set of characters and an interesting aesthetic. For Babel Tales, I decided that the project should be done in Manhattan. I make rules for every project that I do. Choosing Manhattan was a good way of defining an area. It’s an island with so many stories, references, history, and mystery.

How long did it take to finish the Babel Tales series?
I spent four years working on the series. It was quite a long and consuming process but on the other hand it was interesting to work with one idea over  a longer time. The same principle of shooting where the content develops.


On average how long did it take to compose a single photograph?
Typically 10 to 15 days of shooting on the street, but the most time goes into categorizing the images and putting together the final product in my studio. Some took a month and some took years. I usually work on 5 or 10 different images at a time. Some of my latest images are derived from raw material that was shot three summers ago. At the time I thought it didn’t work, but seeing it with fresh eyes has helped.

Peter Funch, Babel Tales, Memory Lane. Photo courtesy of the artist

Are you subverting the individual in the Babel Tales series?
It’s more about indicating a relation between individuals as a group. Babel Tales is about the relations that we aren’t aware of or do not usually pay attention to.

Do you celebrate the hive mentality?
Yes I think it’s very interesting to view all levels and collective groups of society as a large moving organism and breaking that down to the image of a single person walking on the street – his/hers p.o.v. and narrative.


What does it mean to be an artist?
To be an artist is a position in society where you comment, reflect, study, break down and build up. It is not a position you can apply for since you define it yourself.