National Museum of Women in the Arts
Merry Alpern
March 15 1955 - present
Place of Birth:
New York City
Work Type/Media:
Multimedia (electronic, digital, video, film), Photography
Artistic Role(s):
Filmmaker, Photographer
Artist's Biography:
Merry Alpern 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.

In 1995 Merry Alpern became notorious for Dirty Windows, a series of images that she surreptitiously shot peering into a filth-covered bathroom window at a low-rent sex club near Wall Street from a friend’s fire escape across the way. The series features the sexual dalliance and drug use occurring behind closed doors. For her subsequent series Shopping, Alpern wandered through department stores, malls and fitting rooms capturing her surroundings on film using a small surveillance camera hidden in her purse. She then gleaned specific film stills from hours of accumulated footage of women trying on clothes. In a similar fashion to Dirty Windows, Alpern caught private moments on camera, such as women inspecting their bodies in a dressing room’s mirror.

Born in New York in 1955, Alpern graduated from Grinnell College in 1977 with a degree in sociology. Alpern 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 in New York, The Whitney Museum of American Art, the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Baltimore Museum of Art and the Fondation Cartier pour l’art contemporain (Cartier Foundation for Contemporary Art) in Paris. Alpern currently works and resides in New York.

Other Occupation(s):
Place(s) of Residence:
New York City
Where Trained/Schools:
Grinnell College (Sociology), Grinnell, Iowa, USA (1973–1977)
Fellowships, grants and awards:
The Louis Comfort Tiffany Biennial Competition, The Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation, New York, NY, USA (1995) National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship, Washington, DC, USA (1991) Leica Medal of Excellence, Leica Camera AG, Solms, Germany (1988)
Earliest exhibition:
A.J. and Jim Bob, Camera Club of New York, New York, NY, USA (1989)