24 Photos That Show What You Really Look Like On Your Phone

Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
Take a look around you. Whether you're on the subway, walking down the street, or sitting at a bar, you'll notice a common thread: Everyone is on their phones. Heads down, we're ignoring what's happening in front of us, and the people we're actually with. Artist and photographer Eric Pickersgill decided to create a photo series to illustrate what we really look like doing this, and the results are powerful.

Pickersgill first got the idea for this project, "Removed," two summers ago while at an artists' residency in upstate New York. At a coffee shop one morning, a family of four sat down to eat breakfast at the table next to him.

"There were two girls and their dad, and they were all on their personal devices and not talking to each other. The mom didn’t have her phone out and was sitting there looking out the window, looking so isolated but within arms' reach of the most important people in her life," Pickersgill told us. "It was a very striking moment."

After that experience, he resigned himself to be more present, but three nights after getting back home, he fell asleep with his phone in his hand and was jolted awake by the sound of his phone slipping out of his dozing grasp and hitting the floor.

"I looked at my empty palm and it was still in the shape as if I was holding this device," Pickersgill said. He now knew how he wanted to capture what he'd felt while observing the family at that cafe: photographs of people who look as if they're gazing at their devices, but with an empty hand instead.

Read on for 24 images from the "Removed" collection.

This article originally published October 15, 2015.
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I think the [image] that speaks to me the most is the photograph that’s of my wife and I. Not just because she’s super-cute, but because it puts myself within the project. I want to show that I’m part of it, too. I’m not some person casting judgment on society; I’m implicated also."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"The big narrative that started it was two summers ago. I’d go to a coffee shop every morning to start my day. I was there and this family came in and was eating breakfast next to me. There were two girls and their dad, and they were all on their personal devices, not talking to each other. The mom didn’t have her phone out and was sitting there looking out the window and looking so isolated but within arms’ reach of the most important people in her life."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"That got me obsessively looking at people while they’re on their devices. I noticed it so much more."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I enlisted friends and family members and put them in scenes that were normal for them, at the dinner table together."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I’d find people engaged with their devices, come up to them with this big camera — I sometimes startled them because they were so engrossed with what’s in their hands. I’d tell them what the project was about and they’d have that response, 'Oh, I get it, I see what you’re doing here.'"
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"Some people were slightly embarrassed but not uncomfortable — they still wanted to partake in the photograph with me."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I ask them to get back on their device, do exactly what they were doing, actually use their phone to check their email. Then, once they’re engaged, I set up my shot."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"The wedding photograph was just one negative. I thought I had destroyed it — I had a little accident in the darkroom, but I ended up losing a different extra shot from a different shoot. I got lucky."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"Right before you’re ready to make the exposure, you slide the device slowly out of the person’s hand, tell them to keep the gesture the same, keep a relaxed face. Or laughing — there's a couple on a boat and the guy, Kevin, was kind of grinning at something he was looking at."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"They kind of laugh and talk about how they might change the way they engage with their device around other people."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"After we make the picture, I give them my card and ask them to contact me if they’re interested in seeing the image and want the print."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"Some haven’t followed up with me, but most people I've stayed in touch with."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I’m not Photoshopping the phones out; I want [the subjects] to be implicit: They are agreeing to this contract of what I’m portraying them as doing."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I’m using a large-format 4x5 Cambo camera; most people call it a large-format or a 4x5 camera. It depends on the light, but they are pretty slow exposures — 1/15th of a second is the average. [The subjects] have to be very still."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I take two to four shots at the most; sometimes I'll move my position around a bit."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"When you’re behind the camera, you have to put the dark cloth over your head, and they appear on the back of the camera upside down and backwards."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I just hope people see [these photos] and reassess what it is they’re doing and think about how much time they are spending with their device."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"The more we all normalize using our devices around one another, the more it’s going to occur. If you’re tired of it, you have to model that behavior."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"There have been multiple instances when I’ve had this work in public and in print, big mural-size prints, and viewers would come into the gallery, circle around the space, and then on their way out, someone says, 'I can’t believe he removed the phones,' and other people didn’t even notice the phones were gone."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I wish we were a little less smartphone-obsessed. I do. But I’m certainly not trying to tell anyone not to be."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"The project is to point attention to [smartphone obsession] but not to tell people what to do."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I saw some photo projects — a guy was photographing people in public places while they’re on their phones. He was sneaking these shots of people. I didn’t want to do anything like that."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"I’m sensitive to photography and how it’s exploitative to certain groups of people. I was not going to be that kind of artist."
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Photo: Courtesy Eric Pickersgill.
"It’s exhausting but so exciting to have so broad of an impact with this body of work."
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