Photographer's startling images show what cellphones are really doing to us

by Jeanne Sager
Oct 14, 2015 at 4:07 p.m. ET

North Carolina photographer Eric Pickersgill had just gotten married when he left for an artist's residency program in upstate New York. He was feeling homesick and a little disconnected. Then one morning, he went to a local café and noticed a family eating breakfast together... but apart. All but one was connected to a gadget. 

"They were all sharing the same physical space, however they were engaging with people and content elsewhere, and maybe it was the beautiful light and the mother who wasn’t using a device that made me see the situation as a photograph," Pickersgill tells SheKnows. In that moment, an idea for a photo series began to take shape. 

Removed is Pickersgill's series, an exploration of moments when people have tuned out from one another and tuned in to their gadgets. In photo after photo, thanks to Pickersgill's artistry, we get to see how we would appear without a phone in hand... but our attention turned elsewhere.

The photo above was borne of his first idea: "One night after getting back from the residency, I slipped back into my old ways of using my device while in bed with my wife despite having that moment of realization in New York. As my eyes began to slowly close while checking my emails, I awoke to the sound of my phone hitting the floor. Before I thought to bend over the edge to pick it up, I looked at my partially curled open palm resting on the edge of the bed that still held the shape of my dropped device. I realized that was how I would be able to make the photographs for Removed."

1 /21: Wedded bliss

1/21 :Wedded bliss

His subjects are all "in" on the topic of Removed; he doesn't just sneak up on unwitting subjects.

2 /21: Snapping away

2/21 :Snapping away

The fact that Pickersgill uses technology to create these photos isn't hypocritical, he says. He's not anti-technology.

"These photographs are existing in people's lives as a way to make them pay attention to this social shift," he notes. 

3 /21: The neighbors

3/21 :The neighbors

He's not anti-gadget either. "I do think you need to be aware of how long you are spending on your device and be deliberate about it," he says. 

4 /21: What's there?

4/21 :What's there?

How do subjects react to Removed? "When I approach people to make the work, they tend to smile first once they hear the concept, and then they realize that it's speaking to a larger context than themselves," he says.

5 /21: Cody and Erica

5/21 :Cody and Erica

"Once you see yourself within the photograph, you become a little more aware of what's going on," Pickersgill says.

6 /21: Cuddling

6/21 :Cuddling

Pickersgill uses his phone too: "I just personally need the reminder to put it down, because it is an addiction."

7 /21: On the water

7/21 :On the water


8 /21: At play

8/21 :At play

"The absence of the device points to it more so than if it were present," says Pickersgill. "The device being removed also means that the person in the photograph must perform this gesture. They know what the photograph is about and are willing to work with me to make this art. It is a collaboration of sorts."

9 /21: Head-on

9/21 :Head-on


10 /21: Cookin'

10/21 :Cookin'

"I’m not attempting to tell others what to do with their time," Pickersgill says. "I’m just hopefully offering up a moment of realization much like the one that I experienced in the café at the onset of the project."

11 /21: Couch potatoes

11/21 :Couch potatoes


12 /21: Let me take a photo

12/21 :Let me take a photo


13 /21: The man who minds

13/21 :The man who minds


14 /21: Snip, snip

14/21 :Snip, snip


15 /21: Mom and Dad

15/21 :Mom and Dad


16 /21: Photo of a photo

16/21 :Photo of a photo


17 /21: Side by side

17/21 :Side by side


18 /21: Ice cream

18/21 :Ice cream

Of his subjects, Pickersgill says, "It gives us a platform to interact with one another and to then make something together."

19/21 :Mom


20 /21: The whole family

20/21 :The whole family


21 /21: At the store

21/21 :At the store