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"The Neighbors don’t know they are being photographed"
May 17, 2013 10:42 AM   Subscribe

Photographer Arne Svenson has sparked a bit of controversy with his recent show "The Neighbors," about which he says, "I turned to the residents of a glass-walled apartment building across the street from my NYC studio. The Neighbors don’t know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs. I am not unlike the birder, quietly waiting for hours, watching for the flutter of a hand or the movement of a curtain as an indication that there is life within."

In "The Voyeur Next Door," The Tribeca Citizen reports, "The images are gorgeous—the Art in America review [PDF] cites Hopper, Vermeer, and Hitchcock—but they certainly bring up questions regarding privacy. Svenson, in his website remarks, dismisses the issue: 'For my subjects there is no question of privacy; they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high.'"

For the curious, The New York Times featured Svenson's Tribeca loft home [slide show here], the staging ground for the telephoto-enabled artistic home invasions, as part of their "Great Homes and Destinations" section back in December, 2012.
posted by taz (323 comments total) 29 users marked this as a favorite

 
Isn't this super illegal?
posted by windykites at 10:45 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


The images are gorgeous. The only one I really have a problem with is this one. Not cool.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2013


I hope he is eaten alive by rats.
posted by spitbull at 10:46 AM on May 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


Also, I have a an objection to this sentence, which is dumb:

I am not unlike the birder, quietly waiting for hours, watching for the flutter of a hand or the movement of a curtain as an indication that there is life within.
posted by nathancaswell at 10:47 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


i don't even want to see the images. this seems wrong somehow.

i clicked on the links about the loft home and it doesn't seem "glass-walled". it seems like it has windows unless i am completely missing something.

could some legal-minded mefte please explain why this is not illegal? if i was in my home, i would expect that i would have a right to privacy that i don't have when walking down the public street.
posted by sio42 at 10:50 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


tl;dr: /r/creepshots as art
posted by wcfields at 10:51 AM on May 17, 2013 [25 favorites]


At a minimum it would seem he'd need model releases.
posted by Mitheral at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2013


A few months ago, we had scaffolding up in front of our building. Well, one morning I forgot that it was there, and came out of the shower sans towel, and ended up face to face with a construction worker. I imagine that extremely unpleasant feeling would be like this show, only magnified a billion times.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


There was a great story featured on How Sound about another photographer (Michele Iversen) doing this in the suburbs over 10 years ago.
posted by designbot at 10:53 AM on May 17, 2013


Ah, the original story is here.
posted by designbot at 10:54 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow, this is so grotesque and awful that I am actually shivering a little with revulsion.
posted by elizardbits at 10:55 AM on May 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


It is an invasion of privacy but then again how much privacy can you respect when it comes to people who choose to live in glass terrariums. But making money off it seems wrong.
I see those buildings all over New York and wonder who the hell would want to be on exhibit all the time.
posted by Liquidwolf at 10:56 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


nathancaswell, the beginning of that quote explains that the telephoto lens originally belonged to a friend: "'Through the death of a birding friend I obtained his telephoto lens,' Svenson writes on his website. 'Having no interest in birds, I turned to the residents of a glass-walled apartment building across the street from my NYC studio.'"

So he connects it that way, though I still wouldn't disagree that it is a dumb equivalence.
posted by taz at 10:56 AM on May 17, 2013


You read my mind, wcfields. Seems like you can call anything "art" and get away with it- get paid for it!- if you're just pretentious enough. Especially if you're "creating controversy" (being an ass).
posted by windykites at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


This whole thing is awful.


The only one I really have a problem with is this one.

I don't understand why that one is somehow more objectionable.
posted by sweetkid at 10:57 AM on May 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


While it's doubtful that this is illegal, and he is likely correct that, technically speaking, there is no question of explicit privacy standing in front of or near an open window that is open to public space.

This however: "I carefully shoot from within the shadows of my home" is the part that makes it creepy and elicits a self-admission of wrong-doing.

Having a gallery showing is the part that makes it reprehensible.

I envision that curtain sales will triple in TriBeca, and the artist will amuse himself with the "impact" his art has had on the world, while he mentally masturbates into the soaked cloth of his egotistical delusion.
posted by Debaser626 at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


Like many things on the Internet (and in real life, frankly), I had the "Hmm...interesting... oh wait, REAL PEOPLE!" response.

Hearing them talk about it on the Today show this morning, I instantly wanted to defend it (such is my loathing for Matt Lauer's interview style), but, seriously, no.
posted by MCMikeNamara at 10:59 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Isn't this super illegal?

Why would it be? I mean, without arguing that it's not creepy — it's obviously creepy — the general principle seems clear that everything photographed is in clear view of the public. People who don't want to be seen doing something shouldn't do it in front of a huge unobstructed street-facing window in a densely populated city. It's creepy because it transgresses common etiquette (we pretend we can't see into our neighbors' windows) and possibly ethics (we shouldn't be voyeurs on other people's private lives), but I don't see why it should be illegal on the face of it.
posted by RogerB at 11:00 AM on May 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


In my mind this is a bit like Facebook moving to that lifeline model.

I mean, yes, people are visible in their windows, sure, for the brief moments when they are. Taking a picture of it and hanging it up, however, makes their brief moment of exposure permanent and much more likely to be seen by many.
posted by davejay at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Not illegal, maybe, but really skeevy, rude, and arrogant.
posted by custardfairy at 11:01 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I am not unlike the birder, quietly waiting for hours, watching for the flutter of a hand or the movement of a curtain as an indication that there is life within.

He fancies himself to be 'observing' people through the windows of their house like they are some kind of exotic, unknowable creatures? That is seriously creepy.
posted by marimeko at 11:02 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


The Google Street View car caused a flurry of indignation like this a few years ago.

Dear anyone upset about the idea of being photographed through the window of your home: close your blinds.
posted by twsf at 11:02 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


"they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation"

Oh, are they? Because they probably think they're living their lives, but feel free to recast their lives entirely relative to your photography.

I have no idea whether this is illegal, but it's gross. One of my college professors used to stop conversations that became overly abstract with the simple question, "What kind of a world do you want to live in?" I don't want to live in the kind of world where "can" means "should" and "potentially anticipatable" means "perfectly fine."

It's not even just the invasion of privacy that bothers me; it's the narcissism of assigning people the role of performers in your little theater.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 11:03 AM on May 17, 2013 [85 favorites]


could some legal-minded mefte please explain why this is not illegal?

The legal question to ask is whether the occupants believed they had a reasonable expectation of privacy when standing in their window. One side would say yes, I'm inside my house, sometimes behind a curtain. The other side would say, no, you're in full view from a public place and/or another person's property, and if you want privacy, you should get a better curtain.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:04 AM on May 17, 2013


I would possibly be more willing to accept this as controversial but interesting art if only the defenders didn't sound so similar to the defenders of creepshots.
posted by elizardbits at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


I'm totally going to follow this guy into the bathroom and create art.
posted by solmyjuice at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Dear anyone upset about the idea of being photographed through the window of your home: close your blinds.

Some of us like natural light and/or fresh air. If I'm going to keep my windows closed and covered literally all the time I might as well just brick the things up.
posted by Holy Zarquon's Singing Fish at 11:05 AM on May 17, 2013 [26 favorites]


I don't understand why that one is somehow more objectionable.

She is much more recognizable than most of the other subjects, which are pretty much just abstract body parts. I'm a filmmaker... if I were making a documentary on the street, I'd need to obtain releases for people whose faces were clearly recognizable in frame. If you're out of focus, or facing away from the camera, I don't need to release you.

It's certainly creepy, but ultimately how is it any different than any other documentary photography being shown in a fine art setting? Do war photographers release all of their subjects? What about street photographers? What about that guy who does the Tokyo subway portraits of people pressed against glass?
posted by nathancaswell at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


Dear anyone upset about the idea of being photographed through the window of your home: close your blinds.

Where does this stop, though? Do I need to close my curtains during the day (I don't have blinds per se) because someone with a telephoto lens and the right equipment could photograph me when I'm far from the window? So I need to live without daylight in order not to be photographed inside my home?

Get some kind of window scrim, you say? But what about the near-future time when those aren't opaque to technology either? If someone can use technology (and a telephoto lens is technology just as much as something high tech from google) to see into my home, do I have any expectation of privacy at all?

What if someone uses infrared and "films" (or whatever you call it) some kind of recording of me going about my business - in the shower, having sex, etc? I mean, if I have not totally stealthed my house, I don't really have any reason to believe I am not being tracked, right? It really does remind me of 1984 where the guy has one little corner in his house where the TV/camera can't see him. But now, of course, he'd have to stealth some kind of basement bunker.
posted by Frowner at 11:06 AM on May 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


It's certainly creepy, but ultimately how is it any different than any other documentary photography being shown in a fine art setting?

Right, but how many of those subjects are being documented without their consent while within the confines of their own private property?
posted by elizardbits at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I feel like there's a big difference between someone seeing you in your window and someone publishing photos they took of you in your window. Because instead of a handful of people in the street it's the entire internet. Not cool.
posted by sweetkid at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


the neighbours should collaborate on a show focusing on the life and times of Arne Svenson.
posted by w.fugawe at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Just because you can see something doesn't mean it isn't private. Otherwise it's like saying that just because you can tell somebody has an illness it's okay to start talking and speculating about it.
posted by Jehan at 11:07 AM on May 17, 2013


No, judge, I'm not a peeping tom! I'm a fine art photographer!
posted by Justinian at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


If I were Svenson's neighbor, could I set up a video camera that monitored his windows and then stream it on internet all the livelong day? Because I would want to.
posted by gladly at 11:08 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


And hey, if I have no expectation of privacy in my home, that means that someone with a telephoto lens could lurk around and wait until he spotted me, like, trying on a pair of pants or getting out of the shower or something and publish it, right? My bathroom window is opaque glass, but I occasionally open it a few inches at the bottom - is someone entitled to use a telephoto lens and take pictures of me in the shower?
posted by Frowner at 11:09 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


And where does it stop? My bathroom window is on the second floor and out of obvious lines of sight - but what if my neighbor decided to put up a ladder in the middle of his backyard and sit on it with a telephoto lens? Could he then publish the theoretical naked-Frowner pictures because I have no expectation of privacy if someone can put up a ladder, use a weird angle and a fancy lens and see into my shower?
posted by Frowner at 11:10 AM on May 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


if I were making a documentary on the street, I'd need to obtain releases for people whose faces were clearly recognizable in frame.

No, you don't, and it's a pervasive, widespread, wrong belief, driven by the misunderstanding between copyright and right of publicity. You can stand in public and take pictures of Paris Hilton and fully own that photograph's copyright -- this is how paparazzi works. Paris retains publicity rights to her persona and face, which is an entirely different set of legal frameworks that generally covers advertising and promotion of work, not the work itself.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 11:10 AM on May 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


I mean, if he had set up hidden cameras inside these people's houses, I think most of us would agree that this was an invasion of their privacy, trespassing aside. I'm sure there's likely a legal distinction between that and and what Svenson is doing, but emotionally, perhaps ethically, there doesn't seem to be that great a difference to me.
posted by elizardbits at 11:11 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Dear anyone upset about the idea of being photographed through the window of your home: close your blinds.

I don't want to have to live shut off from the world and without a single ray of sunlight, just because I live in an apartment in a major urban area and can't afford the luxury of a walled garden and don't want my life chronicled on the internet.

That's really depressing.

And I am not apologizing for my run-on sentence either.
posted by subject_verb_remainder at 11:11 AM on May 17, 2013 [28 favorites]


This story has a picture of the building and Svenson's, which face each other across a street. It's got big windows, but plenty of curtains, many of which are partially or completely closed. I don't really see how this is meaningfully different from taking pictures through anyone's open windows, big or small.
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:12 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The reason there's ambiguity about the law is that it would be illegal under Peeping Tom laws in many states but New York is one exception.
posted by saulgoodman at 11:13 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just to stretch this to the breaking point:

What if he used a video camera to film 24/7, and then curated the images to only include nudity, and then sold private access to those photos on his personal website for $49/month? You know, for art.

Would that be illegal?
posted by General Tonic at 11:16 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Reminds me of a time I went to a wall street guy's expensive but miniature apartment in Manhattan.

He had a telescope.
posted by nutate at 11:17 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I mean, yes, people are visible in their windows, sure, for the brief moments when they are. Taking a picture of it and hanging it up, however, makes their brief moment of exposure permanent and much more likely to be seen by many.
-----
Just because you can see something doesn't mean it isn't private.


I think these comments (and on preview, a few others since then) start to get to the heart of it, where we again encounter the "certain expectations of privacy" issue. Granted, your neighbors seeing or overhearing you isn't ideal but it's part of living in a crowded city. The only other option is to live in a windowless cave, which isn't very appealing. So compromises are made, and neighbors deal with/gloss over the issue to smooth social interaction and try to let everyone have as much dignity as possible given the situation.

But that is NOT the same as having the world (or a government) seeing/overhearing you, with lasting evidence instead of a passing glance.
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:18 AM on May 17, 2013


The one thing I like about Internet vigilantism is their sense of poetic justice. It seems like someone out there could figure out the exact legal limits of what can be done and then do it to him repeatedly and insistently. Maybe several someones.

It's like: let's take a city where people already feel like they don't have much privacy and further encroach upon it! Let's make everyone feel even less safe in their own home! And let's make a profit at it!

Yay!
posted by anotherpanacea at 11:19 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What makes it art is how good some of the pictures are. Like this one or this one. He is not going for the titillating or the embarrassing, no way this is a creepshot.

I think the price one pays for big windows and a nice view is a loss of privacy. I live on a 15th floor apartment with big windows. I love the view, but I know that the people in the building across the street can see me, and viceversa. I no longer walk naked from the shower to the coffee maker. Small price to pay, but I do not expect privacy if I put myself in a glass box in plain view of the street.
posted by Doroteo Arango II at 11:19 AM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


I don't know what disturbs me more - the possibility that the photographer thought this was okay, or that the photographer knew it was wrong and rationalized it away.
posted by Mooski at 11:20 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I live in a highrise in an area full of highrises and have often wondered about people peeping etc. I kind of assume there's people with telescopes and binoculars looking around the neighbourhood, but still I've never felt the need to close the blinds when I'm 20 stories up.

This year though, I had a bit of a rude awakening. We are renting from a coworker of my wife's who is out of the country. She kept a lot of her things in the second bedroom, which was not a room we had access to. Recently with our family growing, we asked if we could get access to the room and put her things in storage. She agreed, and while we were packing up and clearing out her things we came across 3 separate pairs of binoculars in there, all of which were left with the focus set perfectly on the building across from us.

A little creepy, but I'll tell you, when they are in your hand it is really, really tempting.
posted by Hoopo at 11:21 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I do not expect privacy if I put myself in a glass box in plain view of the street.

Your whole example is entirely different from people looking at a picture of your (clothed or not) backside in an art gallery in Chelsea.
posted by sweetkid at 11:22 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I suspect many of these people wanted their apartments to be seen (why else live in a place with floor to ceiling windows on every wall?), but what they wanted to show was their expensive artwork, their antique collections, their parties...the photographer instead focused on their mundanities without their consent, which I guess in Tribeca is a sin without equal.
posted by Esteemed Offendi at 11:22 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


I wonder if he invited the subjects to the opening of the show.
posted by elizardbits at 11:23 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Doroteo Arango II, does that lack of expectation of privacy extend to people taking pictures of you living your life, putting them on show to the public, and making money from them?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:23 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Wow. I can see how you guys would think this is the worst thing in the world. I don't see that. I grew up in the country, my neighbors were miles away. I think anybody who lives in a city, in a highrise, has to take responsibilty for this not happening to them themselves.
This is why curtains and blinds are made. Use them. There is also window tinting, shudders, living in the country without neighbors, or holes in the ground. So far I can't relate to anybody that is upset about this. sorry.

I have a male neighbor who walks around nude all the time with his blinds open. Do I look...sure..from time to time, here or there. Does he mind? I assume not...cause he has to know... hell the old women on the far end of the block can see him. nobody needs binoculars. It's plain as day. Do I take photos of him. No. Because he is unattractive. Because I don't even take photos of my family or friends. But if I caught my neighbor taking photo's of the naked man next door...I'd still feel nothing.

Tell me his a cop, and he's gathering evidance so he can bust down the door...then I'll get pissed. Until then...um.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 11:23 AM on May 17, 2013


I'm rather perplexed as to why he doesn't feel he needs a model release. That pregnant woman is clearly identifiable, as are several of the others, if you know them personally.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:23 AM on May 17, 2013


Because you generally don't need a model release for photographs taken in this way if you're not intending to use the photo to advertise a product or whatever?
posted by Justinian at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Wait, even if you're going to profit from the images?
posted by elizardbits at 11:26 AM on May 17, 2013


I remember reading somewhere that telescope sales are significantly higher in NYC than the national average. I guess New Yorkers really enjoy looking at the moon, since no stars are typically visible above the light pollution.
posted by ook at 11:27 AM on May 17, 2013


But he IS advertising a product...the actual photo itself is for sale. He's using their likenesses for his personal gain.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:27 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


There's a whole genre of art about the weird non-privacy people have living in cities with views into neighbors' windows. Rear Window, for instance. It's an uneasy situation many people live with every day.

These photographs are beautifully executed. What I find strange is they don't really acknowledge the voyeuristic source. If I didn't know the story it'd never occur to me they were candids.
posted by Nelson at 11:28 AM on May 17, 2013


Very similar to Gail Albert Halaban's series 'Out My Window.'

The difference is that she approaches it in a way that isn't so narcissistic. Her series is more in the context of the city and its inhabitants:

"In her latest series, Out My Window, Gail Albert Halaban has ventured into the private spaces of New York City, photographing its inhabitants and the views that define their lives. In a world framed by windows, there is both an intimacy and remoteness in the proximity of so many strangers. Though the archetype of the photographer training her lens on her neighbor is easily associated with the voyeurism of Alfred Hitchcock's Rear Window, the experience Albert Halaban records is far less menacing. In as much as we are aware of our display, the city is also on display to us. Window and camera are inextricably bound in the framing of a world."
posted by infinitefloatingbrains at 11:28 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why curtains and blinds are made. Use them.

So anytime I want to let a little sun into my apartment or take advantage of the view for which I am paying, having my ass hung on a gallery wall is the risk I take?
posted by monju_bosatsu at 11:28 AM on May 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


i also grew up in the country (and things like this make more sure i'll end up back there some day) but i can't relate to any other part of your comment, QueerAngel28. just because there's less muggings in the ozarks doesn't mean i think the people in NYC have to take some responsibility for it not happening to them.
posted by nadawi at 11:28 AM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Also, as mentioned by one of the neighboring building's residents, I would definitely wonder about the other photos this dude has. It's not as if the photos in the show are the sole ones he ever took.
posted by elizardbits at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


i think the people in NYC have to take some responsibility for it not happening to them.

Yeah, let's not victim blame here, please
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


I think these are great. Thanks for posting.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:29 AM on May 17, 2013 [19 favorites]


Would we all feel differently if these didn't have the excuse of being "art" and were instead straight up YouTube joke videos being all like "look at the old guy with back fat!!! gross!!!!" or "haha that girl needs to wax more completely"? I mean, why not do that? Get some kind of fancy camera, spy on people until you find someone doing something shameful, get the internet to meme-ify them and then say that they have no expectation of privacy because, well, they drew the blinds....but not all the way!!!!
posted by Frowner at 11:30 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


As I read the various comments I notice that there are a variety of things that are called "creepy," rather than what was done specifically. Put in another context, the highly regarded photographer Roman Vishniac often lurked within doorways to do street shooting, or, in some instances, used his child as a pretext to take a shot of street scenes that the Nazis preferred not be photographed.
posted by Postroad at 11:32 AM on May 17, 2013


But what if he was trying to take hi-resolution photos of his own windows and the complainants just happened to be nude in the background across the street because as coincidence would have it, both windows are made of transparent material?
posted by Renoroc at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2013


Never before has "Christ, what an asshole." seemed so appropriate.
posted by papercake at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Very similar to Gail Albert Halaban's series 'Out My Window.'

I can't find any artist's statement about that series, is there one on the website that I've missed? At first glance they seemed more innocuous that the ones in the FPP until I got to the full length nude woman whose face is clearly visible, and now I kind of hate this second artist more than Svenson.
posted by elizardbits at 11:33 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Just wait until jet packs are available.. Soon, we will be seeing some real bird's eye views of urban hi-rise dwellers...
posted by snaparapans at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2013


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.
posted by QueerAngel28 at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I want to dislike it for all the obvious reasons.

In reality, I'm wondering if Neighbors #15 is already sold. Because I love it.
posted by grudgebgon at 11:35 AM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.

Uh, apples are not the same as oranges.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:36 AM on May 17, 2013 [22 favorites]


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.

What
posted by nathancaswell at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2013 [15 favorites]


The images are truly fantastic, as many people have mentioned here already. I completely understand the anger of the neighbors, and I would possibly feel the same way, although the image that had a person most like myself made me wonder if I might be proud to be included because the photographer's images are just that great.

Definitely of two minds about this. I did a photo project once where I photographed people driving in their cars, and ultimately scrapped it even though I came up with a handful of good images, because I was worried about the potential fallout and privacy issues.
posted by cell divide at 11:37 AM on May 17, 2013


Here is one of the problems.

People in NYC live in increasingly compact living situations. As a result of that, we have had to make some societal rules in order to avoid killing each other, primarily around space (such as the good old NYC subway space equation). One of those rules is the polite fiction that we do not see or hear what happens in or around other apartments. We do, of course, we hear the sex and the arguments through the thin walls, or see people walking out in their PJs to take out the trash on trash day. But we never show, through look or gesture, that we do.

He has broken the rules of this society: he has not only indicated that he sees inside their private dwelling space, but he is publishing it to the world.

I'd get my ostracon ready for that.
posted by corb at 11:38 AM on May 17, 2013 [20 favorites]


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.

At that point I would feel that the creepiness of the pictures would be outweighed by the benefits to the subjects/society that he contributed.

Here...it doesn't.
posted by Lemurrhea at 11:38 AM on May 17, 2013


He has broken the rules of this society: he has not only indicated that he sees inside their private dwelling space, but he is publishing it to the world.

I feel like that is the point?
posted by shakespeherian at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.

This is an unusually specious argument, even for metafilter.
posted by elizardbits at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.
Take it to the extreme: why not have unbroken surveillance of our private lives for the sake of maybe catching something criminal, and if any of the stills taken seem particularly artistic we can put them on show. Who could say no to that wonderful offer?
posted by Jehan at 11:39 AM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


The default here in the Netherlands is that people leave their curtains open and that we all pretend not to notice what we are all doing in the privacy of our own homes.

But of course people look in and judge your recent renovation or whether or not you're also watching the Voice. That's not the point though. A moral boundary, if not necessarily a legal boundary has been crossed once you start taking photographs, without people's knowledge or consent.
posted by MartinWisse at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2013 [10 favorites]


I'm glad this was posted along with the Times article because it lets me make a few assumptions about the photographer. The domestic space he and his partner assembled is mindfully curated and pretty well armored with positive class signifiers, and it looks like it probably took some resources to put together. It's also a space that can withstand outside interest -- a lot of it is dedicated to display and invites you to look at it, appraise it, and imagine complimentary things about its owner.

If someone were to peep at Svensen in turn, his position as peep-ee is potentially less damaging to him than to someone else, and he's preemptively established more control over his image. I wonder if he doesn't think of domestic space as a canvas for displaying oneself to the world more than most people do, and lacks the empathy for his subjects to realize that and to refrain.

'Course, he's mostly cropped out the other peoples' domestic interiors so I'm probably way off the mark.
posted by postcommunism at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This is why curtains and blinds are made. Use them.

So, for those of us keeping score at home: "They were asking for it" and "If you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about" are unacceptable from conservatives, but a-ok from pretentious NYC gallery kids.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2013 [42 favorites]


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this?

People would feel differently about it because your hypothetical resembles what is being discussed regarding these photos in only the most superficial way.
posted by Falconetti at 11:40 AM on May 17, 2013


Also, am I wrong, or does one of these photos - the semi-blurred man - look like he's naked beneath that blur?
posted by corb at 11:41 AM on May 17, 2013


Definitely of two minds about this.

I think that's the point.
posted by Curiosity Delay at 11:43 AM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If someone were to peep at Svensen in turn, his position as peep-ee is potentially less damaging to him than to someone else, and he's preemptively established more control over his image. I wonder if he doesn't think of domestic space as a canvas for displaying oneself to the world more than most people do, and lacks the empathy for his subjects to realize that and to refrain.

And would he be upset if someone else made money from that "public" image without his consent?
posted by Greg_Ace at 11:47 AM on May 17, 2013


When did boring photos become art? Is it something with digital photography: "Well, I can take all the photos I want so some of them MUST be art. HEY, how about boring photos of people in their houses taken from a long distance without their permission?"

Someone introduce this person to street photography.
posted by stltony at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ugh.
posted by Dr. Twist at 11:48 AM on May 17, 2013


The article from the Tribeca Citizen has this in the comments, quoting what seems to be a legal statute:

§ 250.45 Unlawful surveillance in the second degree. A person is guilty of unlawful surveillance in the second degree when: 1. For his or her own, or another person’s amusement, entertainment, or profit, or for the purpose of degrading or abusing a person, he or she intentionally uses or installs, or permits the utilization or installation of an imaging device to surreptitiously view, broadcast or record a person dressing or undressing or the sexual or other intimate parts of such person at a place and time when such person has a reason- able expectation of privacy, without such person’s knowledge or consent.

Picture 14 sure looks like a picture taken during the "dressing" part of someone's day.
posted by Runes at 11:49 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


stltony, agreed. Humans of New York is a much better photographer than this guy.
posted by roomthreeseventeen at 11:49 AM on May 17, 2013


I don't understand the idea that this is something people should expect if they live in a city or happen to have their windows open. That's ridiculous. I don't care who happens to look in my windows most of the time. But that's because I'm not expecting anyone to be studying me through my windows. I don't expect anyone to be documenting my life in my home with their camera. The photographer didn't make himself known to the people in that house. There was no consent. (I don't see how is this any different than stalking).
posted by marimeko at 11:49 AM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


But that's because I'm not expecting anyone to be studying me through my windows. I don't expect anyone to be documenting my life in my home with their camera.

Yes, exactly. I feel like the people making that argument are somehow missing the vast difference between someone idly looking in your windows as they go about their own lives, and someone who admits to concealing themselves within their own home to photograph you inside of yours.
posted by elizardbits at 11:52 AM on May 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


Certainly, a person who runs up and down the street nekkid can’t really complain about other people commenting on their junk when it is out there flapping in the breeze. But a person in an apartment in a pose that may not be considered the most flattering has every right to assume that others are not going to exploit that by basically lying in wait until such a time they display that pose. Then to add insult to injury they make a public display of it in a gallery and online and it is even worse.

Not completely on target about this particular invasion of privacy, but still applicable....
Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'
By Daniel J. Solove
May 15, 2011

Oh yeah....what are the prints selling for and do the subjects of those prints get a cut?
posted by lampshade at 11:53 AM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


Definitely of two minds about this.

I think that's the point.


It's unfortunate that the only major media coverage of the contemporary art world is when there are "controversial" artists making "bold" statements that "take the art world by storm".

There's a lot of beauty being made, I wish we could read about it in the major publications.
posted by Think_Long at 11:55 AM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


how many of those subjects are being documented without their consent while within the confines of their own private property?

They're not. Their bodies are inside their homes but the image of them is not. The photographer didn't go onto their private property; he took an image which was INSIDE HIS OWN. This is important: the image was in his apartment, not theirs. If you don't want your body to be visible from inside someone else's house, draw your blinds.
posted by Fnarf at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


Camera-equipped quadrotor drones peeking in windows filming for a "reality porn" site.

Gonna happen, mark my words. I'm surprised it hasn't happened already.
posted by aramaic at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


shakesespherian stirs the pot.

A way back in the day at the old Espresso Bar in Pasadena, CA, several staffers discovered a crawl space up in the ceiling between the back office and the rest of the EBar out front.

One of them figured that one side of the space overlooked the whole bar, and one night, after closing time, arrived with a hand-painted sign that read "Above as Below", a couple of lengths of laundry cord, some pulleys, and a drill. He put a couple of holes high in the wall above the chalkboard menu, a couple more holes a little below those, rigged up the cords and the pulleys, and just like that there were a pair of peepholes behind the sign, accessed via the crawlspace.

The next evening, when the bar was full, the signmaker and a co-conspirator crept up into the crawlspace. All the noise of the room -- hisses and bangs from the espresso makers and machine, a hundred jumbled conversations, music from the stereo -- mumbled at us through the wall. Ever so carefully the signmaker pulled on the cord to raise the sign to reveal the peepholes. We leaned forward and peered out over the room.

It was powerful. Irresitible. What did we see? Nothing out of the ordinary. Nothing of any interest whatsoever. Folks ordering coffee, folks drinking coffee, folks smiling laughing talking reading frowning standing coming going sitting spilling cleaning doing everything they would have been doing if we were in the room with them watching them be boring. But it was impossible to pull one's eye from the peephole. I don't fully understand the magic -- something about watching without being watched changes the relationship. We possessed secret knowledge. We knew something that those people did not know, which was that they were being watched. We could sit and peer through those holes for hours and for many weeks, we did.

And then one night we were careless with the sign.

Anyway. These photos generate a little of that excitement as well as being interesting to look at.
posted by notyou at 12:03 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


lampshade: "Certainly, a person who runs up and down the street nekkid can’t really complain about other people commenting on their junk when it is out there flapping in the breeze. But a person in an apartment in a pose that may not be considered the most flattering has every right to assume that others are not going to exploit that by basically lying in wait until such a time they display that pose. Then to add insult to injury they make a public display of it in a gallery and online and it is even worse.

Not completely on target about this particular invasion of privacy, but still applicable....
Why Privacy Matters Even if You Have 'Nothing to Hide'
By Daniel J. Solove
May 15, 2011

Oh yeah....what are the prints selling for and do the subjects of those prints get a cut?
"

And THERE'S my main objection to this.

Despite the invasion of privacy, which bothers me a goodly bit, my biggest issue is how dare he display and/or sell said pictures? It's one thing to "make art" of other people's lives, it's entirely another to profit from/show in public those lives, especially without (as far as we know) their consent.
posted by Samizdata at 12:05 PM on May 17, 2013


Also, I find this pretty disgusting, but I do have to admit that the photographs are really stunning.
posted by Think_Long at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I mean, the conversation in this thread is exactly what's interesting about these photos, and I hope no one is saying 'I find this creepy!' or 'What about privacy!' or 'I hope no one does this to me!' or 'This violates the social contract!' without realizing that that's what the photos are about. The whole thing where we go around living in cities and not looking at our neighbors through their windows-- or, yeah, sometimes looking at our neighbors through their windows-- is interesting to talk about and think about and prod at and try to find the rational limits of. These photos are absolutely creepy and potentially immoral and maybe even illegal and that's what is so great about them, that now I am trying to decide what I think about all of these issues where before I wasn't.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


If this story was how one "Perverted" man was spying on his neighbors when he noticed someone beating their children, or raping a woman... and his pictures helped solve a crime, or stopped a crime, would people fee differently about this? I bet so.

What if a spree-killer killed a guy who turned out to be a terrorist who was going to blow up a bus full of school kids, one of whom would grow up to be Space Hitler? Now there's a moral conundrum!
posted by GenjiandProust at 12:09 PM on May 17, 2013 [36 favorites]


These photos are absolutely creepy and potentially immoral and maybe even illegal and that's what is so great about them, that now I am trying to decide what I think about all of these issues where before I wasn't.

I think most people do get that, but an argument about the nature of art does not invalidate the concerns of the subjects, nor is it fair to use them as props to initiate the debate. Real-world concerns can not be ignored in favor of art-world concerns, even if they are fun to discuss.
posted by Think_Long at 12:12 PM on May 17, 2013 [17 favorites]


I worked in an office building at Bute and Robson (well, Bute and Alberni, actually) across the street from a glass-walled condo tower. It was incredible how little the condo dwellers cared about who could see what.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:12 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


that's what the photos are about

The artist has violated the covenants of the community for personal gain. I don't care what it's about. It's worthless grist for the controversy mill, devoid of any greater merit or message.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:13 PM on May 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


I mean, the conversation in this thread is exactly what's interesting about these photos, and I hope no one is saying 'I find this creepy!' or 'What about privacy!' or 'I hope no one does this to me!' or 'This violates the social contract!' without realizing that that's what the photos are about. The whole thing where we go around living in cities and not looking at our neighbors through their windows-- or, yeah, sometimes looking at our neighbors through their windows-- is interesting to talk about and think about and prod at and try to find the rational limits of. These photos are absolutely creepy and potentially immoral and maybe even illegal and that's what is so great about them, that now I am trying to decide what I think about all of these issues where before I wasn't.

I hate this argument, it seems so facile and, frankly, rewards shitty art just for being controversial, regardless of the art's other attributes. Art doesn't get to trump morality and ethics just because it is controversial art.
posted by Falconetti at 12:13 PM on May 17, 2013 [25 favorites]


Lord, please don't let me be made into art against my will
posted by prize bull octorok at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


The comparisons to the work of Edward Hopper are spot-on.

It's the differences of medium that raise the issues.
posted by dnash at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Huh. I'm of two minds about this. I like this sort of photography; it's intimate, revealing, and makes you feel a little bit more linked to the crazy messy world at large.

But I like it when people know about it and can give their freaking consent.

The entire back wall of Shepherd and I's house is large floor-to-ceiling windows. We live on the side of a low mountain. I can see into my neighbors' backyards, small terraces, and occasionally windows. But aside from the one lady whose dog seems to run her ragged, nothing to see here.

But knowing that I am much more exposed and have been fairly neglectful about wandering into the kitchen in nothing or less than nothing upon occasion? No big deal. But if there were a neighbor out there waiting for those moments, clothed or otherwise, and he had a camera?

That's a punching.
posted by Kitteh at 12:14 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's one thing to "make art" of other people's lives, it's entirely another to profit from/show in public those lives

BTW these issues and subsequent talk of creeping and stalking reminded me of Sophie Calle's work, particularly Suite Vénitienne and Address Book.
posted by nathancaswell at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


These photos are absolutely creepy and potentially immoral and maybe even illegal and that's what is so great about them, that now I am trying to decide what I think about all of these issues where before I wasn't.

Right, but for some of us, we've had to deal with intrusive and unwanted behavior all our lives, so this isn't really groundbreaking, thought-provoking art so much as it is just another entitled asshole.

I also don't think the photos themselves are that interesting; in fact, I much prefer the Out My Windows series mentioned above, which vexes me greatly because I find some of those images far more intrusive.
posted by elizardbits at 12:15 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


The smugness of the artist is particularly grating: "they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high", when in some cases he's actually taking pictures *through* a curtain. So basically: probably not illegal, but 100 percent asshole.
posted by tavella at 12:16 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


I think these are great photos, and I'm not seeing the invasion of privacy. The photographer deliberately avoids showing faces (or shows them obscured) so people won't be identified.

I agree that the dog's privacy has been violated though.
posted by brain_drain at 12:17 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Here's another artist who has made her mark doing similar things: Merry Alpern.
posted by mareli at 12:17 PM on May 17, 2013


1. If this was somehow okay, why did the photographer feel the need to hide in the shadows?

2a. There's a huge difference between someone walking by and accidentally seeing you in your house and somebody using a telefoto lens from across the street.

2b. I think the only way this can in any way be made palatable is if the photographer stays visible. And it really doesn't make it palatable at all.

3. The "you're asking for it" sure sounds familiar.

4. When miniature remote-control camera drones become more widespread, will it still be okay for them to hover unseen outside your windows?
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:18 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


particularly Suite Vénitienne

An interesting example, as I would absolutely agree with shakes' thoughts that the purposeful creepiness of the entire series is what makes it so fascinating, as well as the artist's eventual unintentional reveal.
posted by elizardbits at 12:18 PM on May 17, 2013


This has been a debate as long as there have been cameras. Jacob Riis used to pish his way into tenements with a portable camera and a flash made from explosive guncotton, which sometimes caused people to leap out windows, thinking they were being shot -- this book, on the most important in the history of photography, was the result.

Paul Strand used a hidden camera too take intimate portraits in the street -- he's the father of modern street photography. Both fathered photojournalism.

Mitch Epstein took photos through windows in 1998.

If this is upsetting to you, and you are entitled to be upset by it, you probably don't even want to look into Yoko Ono's piece titled "Rape," which exists somewhere between horrific prank and assault.

I find myself discomfited by a lot of it, although I also sort of like the idea that, in the future, we may all get our own paparazzi for fifteen minutes. Actually, with the explosion of pocket cameras and the development of stuff like Google Glass, it's probably best if we all consider ourselves potential temporary celebrities. I know it's a pain in the ass, but it's also the sort of adjustment to new technology people had to make when cameras first became portable -- people who had their photos taken in the streets felt just as violated, regardless of the law. We have gotten a lot more used to it now, and just assume when we are in public there is a chance of being photographed.

I waver between one thing and another. I take a lot of photos, but I hate posed photos, so I snap photos of my friends when they are unawares. The pictures are always much better, but it irritates some people, who want their photos to show them posed and attractive, not unposed and human. But, then, in terms of photographing people where they may feel like I am violating their privacy, like through a window, I think it is preferable to get consent.

There is another photographer who does this, and who I like very much. I don't remember her name, alas, but she would leave a little note in people's mailbox saying that she would be at their house at a certain time of night, and if they consented to be photographed, they should leave the blind of such and such window blind open. Then she would come back, and if the blind was open, she was take photos. There's something very nice about this, like all of a sudden, just by virtue of opening of closing a piece of fabric, you can become a model for art.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:19 PM on May 17, 2013 [12 favorites]


I hate this argument, it seems so facile and, frankly, rewards shitty art just for being controversial, regardless of the art's other attributes. Art doesn't get to trump morality and ethics just because it is controversial art.

Who said art gets to trumps morality? All I'm saying is that issues of morality don't invalidate something as art, and that art is supposed to wrestle with issues of morality and ask questions about it.
posted by shakespeherian at 12:20 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs."

Here's my other thing: he's specifically trying to conceal from them that he's shooting them, even if they happen to look out the window. I can imagine looking out the window being like, "I'm just lazing around in my sweats, but if I look out my window and see a dude watching me, I'll certainly close the curtains." He wants specifically to conceal the fact that he's there even if they're looking to see if anyone is there, and I have an issue with that. He's not just taking advantage of their blithe disregard for their own privacy; he's trying to thwart any efforts they might make to look for peepers. And that's gross.

As for art, hell, you can't even do medical research in a way that doesn't take into account the ethics of dealing with subjects. Same with journalism. He has ethical responsibilities even if he believes that his art has value. You have your freedoms, and other people have theirs. To me, even if you have a right to take pictures of people who are right out in public, it's pretty obviously skeevy to conceal yourself so that they can't see that you're there even if they're trying to ascertain whether it's safe to have the curtains open.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 12:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [20 favorites]


If this was somehow okay, why did the photographer feel the need to hide in the shadows?

From experience taking photos of the sky from my apartment window, having lights on inside can cause reflections on the glass to show up in the image. I once thought I'd turned out all the lights so I could take a photo of a sunset outside - only to find I had a lovely image of a sunset with a little TiVo logo floating in midair, because the glowing logo on the machine had reflected.

Which is just to say that in addition to the whole "not wanting to get caught" reason, there's an actual technical reason.
posted by dnash at 12:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Right, but for some of us, we've had to deal with intrusive and unwanted behavior all our lives, so this isn't really groundbreaking, thought-provoking art so much as it is just another entitled asshole.

This. I am gender non-conforming and have a couple of physical oddities, plus I'm no oil painting anyway. I grew up bullied in some pretty severe ways. I am always hyper-aware of my privacy and who can see me, because I have experienced some really shitty stuff in terms of being seen when I thought I was not visible. Hyper-vigilance, as they call it, has not been good for either my mental or my physical health.

Frankly, I know only too well that while in this instance it may be well-off artsy people who are victimized, in actual life it is nonconforming bodies that are rendered into spectacle for money or thrills, and that nonconforming bodies are often physically hurt, coerced or destroyed in the process. The idea that you make "art" this way and then try to claim "oh, it's art about privacy" - bullshit, you're some white rich artist dude who will not be turned into a freak show for someone else's amusement or profit. You're the one who is hacking away at a fragile social boundary which affords people like me some measure of protection.
posted by Frowner at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2013 [23 favorites]


I be pretty pissed if someone photographed me this way.
posted by PHINC at 12:22 PM on May 17, 2013


having lights on inside can cause reflections on the glass to show up... there's an actual technical reason..

And the technical solution is easy: he could open his window. But then he didn't, did he? Because that's not the reason he's shooting from shadow.
posted by aramaic at 12:23 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


i think the paparazzi assholes who photograph topless celebrities or their kids inside of their private spaces are gross and i think this is gross. just because it's probably technically legal doesn't change my opinion, just because people have been doing this since the invention of the camera also doesn't change my opinion.
posted by nadawi at 12:23 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Is there something that would change your opinion? I'm not being a smart ass here -- I am genuinely curious. Under what circumstances, or what argument, might make something like this understandable or tolerable to you?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:25 PM on May 17, 2013


Consent.
posted by elizardbits at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


Consent would go a long way.
posted by elizardbits at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [9 favorites]


if consent was given.
posted by nadawi at 12:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Let me ask -- if the context of the photos were that they were taken in the street, rather than through a window, and otherwise they were identical in every single way, including the lack of consent, would they still be problematic? Would they be equally problematic? Why?
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:27 PM on May 17, 2013


To clarify, the subjects were in the street.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:27 PM on May 17, 2013


All I'm saying is that issues of morality don't invalidate something as art, and that art is supposed to wrestle with issues of morality and ask questions about it.

Art is not separate from the human experience - the artist is not a transcendent, omniscient presence among lesser mortals. Dude's just a guy, and he needs to be taken to account for reprehensible behavior. The only question this poses is "This guy, an asshole or major asshole? Discuss!"

It's a pretty worthless question.

Under what circumstances, or what argument, might make something like this understandable or tolerable to you?

With consent given by his subjects before he began the project. That transforms the entire nature and scope of the art, and would give it merit and meaning.

Dude's a lazy coward and a poor artist, so he didn't bother.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:28 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


the artist is not a transcendent, omniscient presence among lesser mortals

You only say that because you're not an Artist.
posted by aramaic at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2013


Who said art gets to trumps morality? All I'm saying is that issues of morality don't invalidate something as art, and that art is supposed to wrestle with issues of morality and ask questions about it.

I definitely agree that this is art, and it's pretty good as I said earlier.

I think what I'm judging (I'm not speaking for others) is the artist and his actions and whether it is reasonable for him to defend himself behind the shield of "the discussion is part of the work!"

To clarify, the subjects were in the street.

No expectation of privacy on the street, or at least less of one.
posted by Think_Long at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"Serious" photographers can be a strange breed - the entire point sometimes is taking candid photos of people. In my undergrad photojournalism courses, our instructor (whose hobby or "main focus" is taking pictures of naked ladies, the bum) suggested we hold our camera at chest level so it wouldn't be obvious we were taking photos.
posted by KokuRyu at 12:29 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Art is not separate from the human experience - the artist is not a transcendent, omniscient presence among lesser mortals. Dude's just a guy

No one agrees with this more than me but I don't know what that has to do with what I said?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:30 PM on May 17, 2013


Do you mean if both photographer and subject were on the street? Or if only the subjects were on the street and the photographer was concealed inside his home using a telephoto lens?

I'm really only asking for clarification as my feelings would be the same in either circumstance - I do not have the same expectation of privacy on a city street as I do inside of my home. Assuming the photos in question were not creepy upskirts or something else deliberately sexualized such that the purpose of the image was to objectify and dehumanize the subject, then I don't think it's offensive at all, although I would still prefer the photographer gain consent.
posted by elizardbits at 12:31 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Let me ask -- if the context of the photos were that they were taken in the street, rather than through a window, and otherwise they were identical in every single way, including the lack of consent, would they still be problematic? Would they be equally problematic? Why?

Streets are public, homes are not.
posted by MisantropicPainforest at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


Someone introduce this person to street photography.

I'm of two minds here. Some people don't like photos of them taken, ever. Even though there's nothing illegal about photographing them on the street, it's still a perceived invasion of privacy.

I like Arne Svenson's photos. There are no clear faces, so they are anonymized to a degree. If these people were sitting in the same positions in parks, coffee shops, or other clearly public places, the controversy is gone. Now they're just "street photos."

Except we live so close to one another in public places, that unless we wall ourselves off, people can see us. We pretend we don't. We try not to look too long, to avoid being "creepers." But there we are, just across the way.

This isn't a paparazzi, trying to make a quick buck off of come celebrity. In fact, if a paparazzi shot these photos, they wouldn't sell, because you can't see the faces. Paparazzi capture recognizable individuals in their private moments, or while they're walking the dog, or getting coffee. Truly mundane moments, but you have to be able to recognize those people, or they could be anyone, and that's boring. No one pays attention to boring.

These are shot with care for framing, lighting, composition. These are not taken to embarrass or expose people.

I understand the discomfort at photography of individuals in their homes, because instead of a glance, the photograph is lasting. Maybe Arne has some creeper shots, but these aren't those.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:32 PM on May 17, 2013 [8 favorites]


No expectation of privacy on the street, or at least less of one.

There used to be. Legally, you have exactly the same expectation of privacy when visible through an open window as when in the street. The challenge of this series of photos is that the only thing that distinguishes them from street photography is that the photos are taken in a space where there is a conflict between general expectations of privacy, but no legal ones in the instance of these photos.

Do you mean if both photographer and subject were on the street? Or if only the subjects were on the street and the photographer was concealed inside his home using a telephoto lens?

I suppose whatever distinction is meaningful to you. Legally, they are identical circumstances.

Streets are public, homes are not.

Whatever happens through an open window is visible to the public.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


or, even getting permission afterwards (with a willingness to destroy photos where the subjects were upset by it) - that way you can still do the whole technically legal peeping tom shit without also forcing someone to be part of your art.

re: the topic of street vs house - well, i'm also wholly opposed to stalking women through the grocery store to get downblouse photos - so there's definitely problems with street photography - but i do think there's less of an expectation of privacy. i think if someone were taking the efforts to hide that this guy talks about it can be pretty gross, but if he's standing on the street in full view taking pictures of other people on the street that's less of a problem.
posted by nadawi at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2013


I think the expectation of privacy on the street is far different from the expectation of privacy in one's own home. In one case you are fully in the public sphere and in the other case you are almost fully in the private sphere. This may be a cultural consensus that developed over time, but I think it is a pretty accurate current summation of most peoples' feelings on the matter (at least in the US).

Also, the hypothetical of the photos being identical, just one on the street and one through a window into a person's home doesn't really work because there is no way they could be identical. I find it impossible to imagine the photos being the same execpt for that difference.
posted by Falconetti at 12:33 PM on May 17, 2013



Let me ask -- if the context of the photos were that they were taken in the street, rather than through a window, and otherwise they were identical in every single way, including the lack of consent, would they still be problematic? Would they be equally problematic? Why?


This seems to be the wrong question to ask, because the fact that one is vulnerable on the street means that being safe at home is extra important.

I have to go out in the street and deal with shitty, homophobic people who may hurt me because I can't stay inside all the time. When I am out on the street, I am constantly aware that I may be harassed, photographed, mocked, injured - these things have happened to me, at times under fairly intense circumstances. Being vigilant on the street is tiring and stressful and eats up a big chunk of energy. It is not good for me.

Being able to say "ah, I am home, I do not have to fear being victimized in my home in my own room with the door closed" is incredibly important to me. It is important both mentally and physically; I know from living in spaces where I had to be vigilant all the time that it takes its toll on my health. Being conscious that I might be photographed and spied on in ways that I find particularly triggering (and yes, "triggering" in the elevated pulse, fear, bad memories, inability to get out of a thought loop way) when I am at home - that is a situation of intolerable fear and distress.

It is because I am not safe in the world that I need to be safe at home. If I lived in a world where being myself didn't put me at risk of all kinds of things - a world that was not misogynist, homophobic, transphobic and ready to use images against anyone perceived as vulnerable - I might not care about being photographed generally, although I cannot imagine that I would want the potential of being surveilled in my own home.

Why? Do you not mind being surveilled? If there were guards with cameras filming you everywhere you went, up to and including the toilet, would that be totally innocuous to you? If it would, you might want to consider your gender, sexuality, employment and embodiment situation and then thank your fucking stars.
posted by Frowner at 12:34 PM on May 17, 2013 [23 favorites]


No one agrees with this more than me but I don't know what that has to do with what I said?

I'm saying that issues of morality do, in fact, invalidate the art: Mengele and his lampshades being the most blatant and undeniable example.
posted by Slap*Happy at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it impossible to imagine the photos being the same execpt for that difference.

People sitting. People talking to each other. People reading. A dog. I certain can imagine substantially similar images in the public sphere.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:35 PM on May 17, 2013


elizardbits: "Consent would go a long way."

Or even the chance he asked the afflicted parties.
posted by Samizdata at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2013


There used to be. Legally, you have exactly the same expectation of privacy when visible through an open window as when in the street. The challenge of this series of photos is that the only thing that distinguishes them from street photography is that the photos are taken in a space where there is a conflict between general expectations of privacy, but no legal ones in the instance of these photos..

Sure, legally speaking there is no difference I suppose (I really don't know, IANAL).

But you acknowledge that these people have a "general expectation of privacy", like most of us would. Why is it okay to violate that general expectation just to make a point? Just because it isn't illegal doesn't make it right.
posted by Think_Long at 12:36 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Streets are public, homes are not

The photog is not in their home. He's not shooting anything that these people are not projecting out to the world.
posted by Fnarf at 12:37 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


there's a lot of things that are legally permissible that are still jerkish or creepy. it was probably legal for my asshole friend in high school to take telephoto lens shots of the girl he had a crush on in the foyer (making sure he knew her schedule so he knew where she was at every point of the day) - i still dropped him like a bad habit when he showed me the binder.
posted by nadawi at 12:37 PM on May 17, 2013


What if, instead of these being photographs, you were hanging out with your pal Arne Svenson at his place and he glanced out the window and saw a neighbor leaned up against the glass and he said 'Jesus, look at that, it's beautiful,' and you looked?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:38 PM on May 17, 2013


I'd say "I agree" because we weren't going to publish it and display it in a gallery? I mean, the photo is the entire point.
posted by Think_Long at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm saying that issues of morality do, in fact, invalidate the art: Mengele and his lampshades being the most blatant and undeniable example.

*speechless*
posted by brain_drain at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I think these are great photos, and I'm not seeing the invasion of privacy.

Do you mean that in an abstract sense, or do you really think the residents still feel they have a sense of privacy?

The photographer didn't go onto their private property; he took an image which was INSIDE HIS OWN. This is important: the image was in his apartment, not theirs.

"They projected their image into his home. He's actually the victim here."

He used a bit of technical wizardry called "a telephoto lens". And he exploited their basic trust in their neighbors - under normal circumstances you don't assume your neighbors are voyeurs, stalking you with cameras. Telephoto or otherwise.

These are shot with care for framing, lighting, composition. These are not taken to embarrass or expose people.

The aesthetic properties of the image don't mean the victims don't feel exposed. Their image, their privacy, is now a public commodity.

People sitting. People talking to each other. People reading. A dog. I certainly can imagine substantially similar images in the public sphere.
Sure, but these are interesting because of their context. We get a little primate fix when we pull off a bit of voyeurism.
posted by sebastienbailard at 12:39 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's not shooting anything that these people are not projecting out to the world.

The same is true for most (not all) downblouse & upskirt shots -- they merely photograph what could be visible to a suitably-located person on a public street. Even if we set aside the upskirt shots, it's still absolutely true of most of /r/creepshots

Are they OK?
posted by aramaic at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


The photog is not in their home. He's not shooting anything that these people are not projecting out to the world.

Projecting? These are taken with a telefoto lens no where near the subjects. How is that projecting?

The other part of this is the artist's putting these on exhibit. This changes it from pervy behavior to sanctioned pervy behavior.
posted by Celsius1414 at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I find it impossible to imagine the photos being the same execpt for that difference.

People sitting. People talking to each other. People reading. A dog. I certain can imagine substantially similar images in the public sphere.


Yes, it is very easy to imagine the forms of people being the same, what I meant was the whole sticking point for everyone in this thread is not the formal composition of bodies and objects in the photos, but the manner in which the photos were captured. Removing the manner in which the photos were captured and just comparing the arrangement of forms also removes any power these photos have, which is why I find it impossible for the photos to be the same except for the difference you asked us to imagine.
posted by Falconetti at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2013


What if, instead of these being photographs, you were hanging out with your pal Arne Svenson at his place and he glanced out the window and saw a neighbor leaned up against the glass and he said 'Jesus, look at that, it's beautiful,' and you looked?

It would be naive to pretend we never look in the neighbor's windows. It's a bit more exploitative to print and frame what we find.
posted by Think_Long at 12:40 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if, instead of these being photographs, you were hanging out with your pal Arne Svenson at his place and he glanced out the window and saw a neighbor leaned up against the glass and he said 'Jesus, look at that, it's beautiful,' and you looked?

how is that the same as this? what?

Also if he's calling a neighbor an "it" that's kind of weird.
posted by sweetkid at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


What if, instead of these being photographs,

then the subject wouldn't be plastered in an art gallery and wouldn't have to be a party to it. just like there's a difference between checking someone out and going up to tell them what a hot ass they have.
posted by nadawi at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2013


I've thought a lot about personal spaces in neighborhoods. I've thought about it to some degree since reading The Twits, who live in a brick house without windows:
'Who wants windows?' Mr Twit had said when they were building it. 'Who wants every Tom, Dick and Harry peeping in to see what you're doing?' It didn't occur to Mr Twit that windows were meant mainly for looking out of, not for looking into.
Then I worked reviewing projects in neighborhoods where houses were a few feet away from each-other. Someone wanted a deck on the back of their two-story home, but the neighbors were up at arms, because they didn't believe the would-be deck owner would really look out to the adjacent ocean, but instead would peer over their walls, peeking into their yards. They ignored the fact that they had the ability to look right back up at the deck.

Privacy goes both ways. You can peer from your windows at neighbors behind their windows. We give up some of our privacy to look out the windows, just as our neighbors do. Privacy in cities, or even small communities with small lot sizes, is limited at best. That's the price you pay for living near other people.
posted by filthy light thief at 12:41 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Someone should grab his camera, throw it, and break it against the windows.

Then justify it saying "but I was making art about theft and vandalism!"
posted by General Tonic at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


how is that the same as this? what?

I'm not saying there's no difference. But what is the difference?
posted by shakespeherian at 12:42 PM on May 17, 2013


Also if he's calling a neighbor an "it" that's kind of weird.


I think shakes was referring to the composition of the scene as the "it".
posted by Think_Long at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2013


then the subject wouldn't be plastered in an art gallery and wouldn't have to be a party to it. just like there's a difference between checking someone out and going up to tell them what a hot ass they have.

I disagree. Photos in galleries are objectified in a distinctly different way from the way some guy (generally) commenting on a ladies (generally) "hot ass."
posted by filthy light thief at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2013


What if, instead of these being photographs, you were hanging out with your pal Arne Svenson at his place and he glanced out the window and saw a neighbor leaned up against the glass and he said 'Jesus, look at that, it's beautiful,' and you looked?

This has already been answered numerous times. It seems that most people who object to the photos base their objection partially or primarily on that fact that this was not a glance, but something that has been preserved, displayed to the public and commoditized.
posted by Falconetti at 12:43 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


He's actually the victim here.

Thanks for putting words in my mouth. That tells me all I need to know about your good faith. I didn't say anything about victims. There are no victims in these (boring) photographs.
posted by Fnarf at 12:44 PM on May 17, 2013


I disagree. Photos in galleries are objectified in a distinctly different way from the way some guy (generally) commenting on a ladies (generally) "hot ass."

But does that objectivification feel any different to those ladies?
posted by Think_Long at 12:45 PM on May 17, 2013


Photos in galleries are objectified in a distinctly different way

the point i was making broadly was that one is a private act (checking someone out/enjoying the artistic composition of a found moment) and the other forces the subject to part of it (telling the person directly/making them a part of your for profit art). they are very different things.
posted by nadawi at 12:46 PM on May 17, 2013


Photos in galleries are objectified in a distinctly different way from the way some guy (generally) commenting on a ladies (generally) "hot ass."

Very true, but I think most people assume that the photos of people they see in galleries were taken with the knowledge of the subjects?
posted by elizardbits at 12:48 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


and that if they know they were taken without knowledge of the subjects, they get to feel the voyeur thing which puts it right back in the peeping tom category.
posted by nadawi at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2013


Very true, but I think most people assume that the photos of people they see in galleries were taken with the knowledge of the subjects?

I have been to many shows of street photography, where I am sure there was no knowledge or consent by the subjects.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:50 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


This is kind of like a highbrow version of Shut Up, Little Man!
posted by Rykey at 12:52 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also if he's calling a neighbor an "it" that's kind of weird.

That kind of objectification is what gives voyeurism it's weird power. Bunny Ultramod's comment above includes a link to a fascinating discussion of Yoko Ono's film "Rape", which takes voyeuristic objectification about as far as it can go.
posted by notyou at 12:52 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I have been to many shows of street photography, where I am sure there was no knowledge or consent by the subjects.

Yes, but again, street photography does not imply the same sort of assumed consent that photography of people inside their homes would, to me.
posted by elizardbits at 12:52 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


This very issue was the subject of an excellent retrospective a few years back called "Exposed: Voyeurism, Surveillance, and the Camera Since 1870." I wrote about it. Here's SFMOMA's page on it. Here's HuffPo on it. ArtNet. There are a lot of other reviews, and they wrestle with a lot of these same questions.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 12:54 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


This is kind of like a highbrow version of Shut Up, Little Man!

Ha, I didn't make that connection until now, but you're right. It deals with a lot of the same issues too - the guy struggling with the guilt of making a profit off of these private conversations.

And here's where my hypocrisy comes in, because I have watched and listened and enjoyed the Little Man! tapes and thought about the ethics involved in that case as well.

Not that I can make this choice with a clean conscience, but I think ultimately my enjoyment of those tapes and doc, and these photographs (like I said, they are quite wonderful), does not outweigh the rights and concerns of the unwitting subjects, nor does it excuse the artist from judgment of their transgressions.

And I don't think that contradicts my past enjoyment of street photography either, because it is a generally acknowledge part of our urban social contract that on the street /= through the window with a telephoto lense.
posted by Think_Long at 12:57 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Next, a show from hovering helicopter camera-bots.

You know, the little tiny ones, small enough to look between the slats on Venetian blinds.

Did you know a long telephoto can focus right through a light fabric curtain on someone a few feet behind the curtain? Depth of field, it's called. All those little pinholes between the threads pass enough light to reconstruct the image.
posted by hank at 12:58 PM on May 17, 2013


I wonder what this artist's POV on "privacy" would be if someone took photos of his gallery show from the street, and then printed and made another gallery showing of that.
posted by Debaser626 at 1:02 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


- Photos in galleries are objectified in a distinctly different way from the way some guy (generally) commenting on a ladies (generally) "hot ass."

- Very true, but I think most people assume that the photos of people they see in galleries were taken with the knowledge of the subjects?


That's beside the point, when comparing wolf-whistles to non-sexual photographs of people.


Next, a show from hovering helicopter camera-bots.

You know, the little tiny ones, small enough to look between the slats on Venetian blinds.

Did you know a long telephoto can focus right through a light fabric curtain on someone a few feet behind the curtain? Depth of field, it's called. All those little pinholes between the threads pass enough light to reconstruct the image.


There's reconstruction an image taken through gaps someone's closed curtains, and there's taking photos of someone sitting with their back to the window, with their face obscured by a curtain. The former is the work of a dedicated peeping tom. The latter is the topic at hand.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:04 PM on May 17, 2013


I wonder what this artist's POV on "privacy" would be if someone took photos of his gallery show from the street, and then printed and made another gallery showing of that.

How very meta. I, for one, would applaud.
posted by filthy light thief at 1:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


It seems that most people who object to the photos base their objection partially or primarily on that fact that this was not a glance, but something that has been preserved, displayed to the public and commoditized.

What about this distinction makes something cross the line of violating someone's privacy?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:06 PM on May 17, 2013


The former is the work of a dedicated peeping tom. The latter is the topic at hand.

These are not mutually exclusive.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2013


How very meta. I, for one, would applaud.
posted by filthy light thief


Eponysterical.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2013


How many of these people are identifiable in the photographs? By my count, it's approximately zero. Faces are all obscured.

Ethically, yes, the project is iffy. On the other hand: Want privacy? Try closing the curtains.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:07 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if, instead of these being photographs, you were hanging out with your pal Arne Svenson at his place and he glanced out the window and saw a neighbor leaned up against the glass and he said 'Jesus, look at that, it's beautiful,' and you looked?

I don't at all accept that this has much of anything to do with the matter at hand, but just for the record? I would think that was very weird. My reaction would be, "Dude, don't peep at the neighbors, that's not nice."
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:10 PM on May 17, 2013


Ethically, yes, the project is iffy. On the other hand: Want privacy? Try closing the curtains.

Again, this isn't just about privacy. This is privacy plus not having one's privacy publicly exhibited in an art gallery. Faces or no.
posted by Celsius1414 at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Want privacy? Try closing the curtains.

Wow no one in the thread has said this at all. Total original.
posted by sweetkid at 1:11 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


they get a lot more identifiable since we know what building he was shooting, faces or no.
posted by nadawi at 1:13 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It seems that most people who object to the photos base their objection partially or primarily on that fact that this was not a glance, but something that has been preserved, displayed to the public and commoditized.

What about this distinction makes something cross the line of violating someone's privacy?


For me, permanence and ubiquity are the two qualities in this instance that cross the line. A photograph can persist for much longer than a glance and can be reproduced so that more than one individual can share in the image. Do you see any value in this distinction? And even if you don't see any value in this distinction, do you think it is rational and understandable for others to see value in this distinction?
posted by Falconetti at 1:14 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


So, for those of us keeping score at home: "They were asking for it" and "If you've got nothing to hide, you have nothing to worry about" are unacceptable from conservatives, but a-ok from pretentious NYC gallery kids.

Yes. Taking a picture of someone visible to the public is exactly the same thing as rape. Sure.
posted by Sys Rq at 1:16 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ah come on guys, it's just a discussion, let's not piss in the pool
posted by Think_Long at 1:17 PM on May 17, 2013


Falconetti, can you articulate the link between permanence and privacy?
posted by shakespeherian at 1:18 PM on May 17, 2013


Just wait until jet packs are available.. Soon, we will be seeing some real bird's eye views of urban hi-rise dwellers... posted by snaparapans at 2:35 PM

Just wait til snoopy kids and creeps can buy cheap drones with lightweight cameras, and can fly those drones all around the neighborhood looking into any window they want.
posted by surplus at 1:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There used to be. Legally, you have exactly the same expectation of privacy when visible through an open window as when in the street.

Stop saying things like this people! It's not true! There are different laws and different expectations of privacy in different places as established in state law. In Florida, unlike NY for example, this would definitely be illegal under well-established Peeping Tom laws.

So, no, legally, "you" in the generic sense don't have "exactly the same expectation of privacy when visible through an open window as when in the street"...

In many places, peeping into people's windows is expressly illegal and the expectation of privacy in one's home is clearly established in law. So your expectations have to vary depending on your own community's standards and laws.
posted by saulgoodman at 1:22 PM on May 17, 2013 [7 favorites]


they get a lot more identifiable since we know what building he was shooting, faces or no.

this is a good point.
posted by nathancaswell at 1:22 PM on May 17, 2013


How many of these people are identifiable in the photographs? By my count, it's approximately zero. Faces are all obscured.

That doesn't necessarily effect how such a violation would feel to someone photographed in this manner.
posted by marimeko at 1:25 PM on May 17, 2013


SFW?
posted by Mental Wimp at 1:28 PM on May 17, 2013


Quite apart from the obvious public space / private space distinction between having your photo taken on the street vs this is the fact that this involves watching an individual for a long period of time. It'd be weird to have someone follow you around all day waiting to catch a good photo, even if you were out on the street.
posted by lucidium at 1:32 PM on May 17, 2013


People of Wall-Art.com
posted by themanwho at 1:33 PM on May 17, 2013


Falconetti, can you articulate the link between permanence and privacy?

I am happy to try to answer, but can you engage a little more? I feel like I am in a law school classroom being subjected to the Socratic Method.

A glance in your window is a fleeting, ephemeral instant of someone theoretically "violating" your privacy. The glance will likely been soon forgotten by the person doing the glancing and I think it is safe to say that most people would not truly feel violated if someone on the street glanced into their open window. In contrast, a photograph preserves the violative moment - the "violation" is no longer fleeting and ephemeral, but becomes something tangible and persistent. The ability to make that violative moment something public, feels much more like an invasion of privacy and a violation as it not only increases the duration of the violation, but also the scope.

Now, privacy is not a natural compound that can be scientifically tested, it is a personal and societal expectation. I am positive that different cultures and different time periods had different expectations of privacy, but I think what I am articulating is along the lines of what most people would agree with, at least at this moment in time in the US.

Do you see a difference between someone glancing at you through the open window of your house while walking by on their way to the store versus someone sitting on the sidewalk with binoculars watching you through your open window all afternoon without you realizing it?
posted by Falconetti at 1:36 PM on May 17, 2013 [14 favorites]


Law hasn't caught up with technology in many ways.
Standing in one's window, one might expect to close the blinds at night when the balance of light shifts. You might not expect that a neighbor could see you better than you can see them. His using a telephoto lens violates the "expectations of privacy." This is NOT the observed person's normal expectation of privacy for just living in an apartment that yeah, has windows.
It's like the difference between having a loud fight that you can expect your neighbors to hear, and having someone sneak an amplifying microphone up against your window during a quiet conversation.
posted by third rail at 1:37 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What Falconetti said.
posted by third rail at 1:39 PM on May 17, 2013


Stop saying things like this people! It's not true! There are different laws and different expectations of privacy in different places as established in state law. In Florida, unlike NY for example, this would definitely be illegal under well-established Peeping Tom laws.

So, It's not true!, except in the only jurisdiction relevant to this discussion.

Did I get that right?
posted by Sys Rq at 1:40 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


My hypothetical wasn't about a glance, it was about someone purposefully drawing someone else's attention to something glimpsed through a neighbor's window.

But I'm curious why you put 'violation' in quotes in the instance of a glance-- is that a violation or not? Because then it seems we're talking about a difference of degree and not kind.

What I'm interested in, here, is that it seems (to me, at least) like we're dealing with an unspoken social agreement that because you're in your home, your glass windows are opaque. That everyone knows I can see through your windows, but we'll all just agree that I'll pretend I can't, and that if I see you I'll look away. I feel like arguments distinguishing these photos from street photography on the one hand and from just looking up and seeing your neighbor in her home on the other are kind of bumping up against one another and I find that interesting.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:42 PM on May 17, 2013


like we're dealing with an unspoken social agreement that because you're in your home, your glass windows are opaque. That everyone knows I can see through your windows, but we'll all just agree that I'll pretend I can't, and that if I see you I'll look away.

I think it's disingenuous to keep pretending we're talking about "looks" when we are pretty clearly talking about publicly exhibited photographs and we have had a bunch of comments talking about the difference between those two things.
posted by sweetkid at 1:45 PM on May 17, 2013


In Florida, unlike NY for example, this would definitely be illegal under well-established Peeping Tom laws. . . In many places, peeping into people's windows is expressly illegal and the expectation of privacy in one's home is clearly established in law.

Really? My understanding is that most "Peeping Tom" laws, including Florida's, require that the voyeuristic action involve some lewd or sexual intent (e.g. watching someone take a shower). That's not the case here.
posted by brain_drain at 1:46 PM on May 17, 2013


I think it's disingenuous to keep pretending we're talking about "looks" when we are pretty clearly talking about publicly exhibited photographs and we have had a bunch of comments talking about the difference between those two things.

Could you point me to where? I'm asking specifically about the difference between those two things.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:47 PM on May 17, 2013


What I'm interested in, here, is that it seems (to me, at least) like we're dealing with an unspoken social agreement that because you're in your home, your glass windows are opaque. That everyone knows I can see through your windows, but we'll all just agree that I'll pretend I can't, and that if I see you I'll look away.

I know this is mostly an academic discussion here, but you're being a little obtuse if you are pretending not to understand that it would be weird to catch someone looking at you through your window and then continuing to do it after you've caught them in the act.
posted by Think_Long at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Fnarf: They're not. Their bodies are inside their homes but the image of them is not. The photographer didn't go onto their private property; he took an image which was INSIDE HIS OWN. This is important: the image was in his apartment, not theirs.

The same argument has been attempted in the past for decrypting satellite television signals without paying the broadcasting company. Basically, "if they didn't want me using their signal they shouldn't have beamed it at my property" doesn't fly as a defense. Why should that apply to certain parts of the EM spectrum but not visible light?
posted by fader at 1:48 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


When I think of professional trolling, I normally think of the loud talk show host kind, but this guy does some incredible steering.
posted by LogicalDash at 1:49 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I know this is mostly an academic discussion here, but you're being a little obtuse if you are pretending not to understand that it would be weird to catch someone looking at you through your window and then continuing to do it after you've caught them in the act.

Huh? I didn't say that.
posted by shakespeherian at 1:49 PM on May 17, 2013


A few months ago, we had scaffolding up in front of our building. Well, one morning I forgot that it was there, and came out of the shower sans towel, and ended up face to face with a construction worker. I imagine that extremely unpleasant feeling would be like this show, only magnified a billion times.

One time, we were having our house painted, and I realized part way through my shower that at least one of the painters was on the sunroom roof, right outside the open bathroom window. I decided that I would just ignore then, but a couple of minutes later, a voice outside the window said, "Um, Ms. P, we're wondering if you want this trim here done in the dark green or in the cream..."

Me: "Around that bedroom window there?"

Painter: "Yeah."

Me: "It should be the dark green."

Painter: "That's what we thought. Just wanted to be sure, thanks."

All while I was in the shower.

I joked later that the painters should have treated the visual barrier of the window curtains as if it were also a sound barrier, like at the Michigan Womyn's Music Festival, where everyone just acts like once you're inside your tent you actually have privacy even though there are people sitting around a fire 10 feet away and they can totally hear you having sex.
posted by not that girl at 1:50 PM on May 17, 2013


How is this so different in subject from Robert Frank's Americans?
posted by grubby at 1:51 PM on May 17, 2013


it seems (to me, at least) like we're dealing with an unspoken social agreement that because you're in your home, your glass windows are opaque

I think we're dealing with kind and humane treatment of other people. It's different from street photography in that if I'm walking down the street and I'm crying (for instance), I would know to seek out a private place. Like, you know, my house. I would not necessarily think, "Oh, wait -- the blinds are half-up; perhaps someone will take a photo through my window with a telephoto lens of me crying and sell it in a gallery so that it can hang over someone's couch forever."

If you are next door and you look up and see me crying accidentally, I might be embarrassed, and I'd certainly hope you wouldn't stand there and intentionally watch me in a moment of private vulnerability, but the nature and seriousness of that risk is part of living in the world, because otherwise, you have to have your blinds completely closed all the time. It's about sharing space with other people in a way that's respectful to them, and a lot of that (to me) can be solved by not doing the things that you know perfectly well they wouldn't want you to do and wouldn't give you permission to do -- and you can tell you're doing that when you're hiding in the shadows and using telephoto lenses. Nobody would ever say to you, "How dare you accidentally look out your window and inadvertently glimpse me!" It's a false equivalence, for me.

You're asking about the differences between street photography, a glance by a neighbor, and being intentionally and surreptitiously pursued, and you seem to want a bright line between those three things. I acknowledge there is no bright line between those things. There's often no bright line between what's respectful and not, kind and not, fair and not, exploitive and not, predatory and not. It doesn't mean the distinctions aren't real simply because it can be hard to tell where the precise moment of transition from one to the other happens.
posted by Linda_Holmes at 1:54 PM on May 17, 2013 [25 favorites]


But I'm curious why you put 'violation' in quotes in the instance of a glance-- is that a violation or not? Because then it seems we're talking about a difference of degree and not kind.

I put it in quotes because it was hard for me to articulate what I wanted to say. To discuss permanence, I needed to refer to a brief glance and a photograph as being on the same line and that the harm comes about when one cross a point on that line traveling from glance to photograph, so I referred to both acts as a "violation" but only the latter actually results in harm. Not particularly elegant, but I hope you get my intent.

My hypothetical wasn't about a glance, it was about someone purposefully drawing someone else's attention to something glimpsed through a neighbor's window.

Replace all instances of "glance" with "directed look" or something to that affect. For me, whether there is a sense of violation would depend on what the person was directing the other person to look at - a nude little girl or boy, a nude adult woman or man, a really nice couch you covet, the color of the walls because you were thinking about painting your room a similar color, etc. Just like everything else when it comes to these questions, what is "correct" is based primarily on shared cultural expectations, not rational deducement.

I've been very good about trying to honestly and earnestly address the questions you posed to me. I've posed a few questions to you, but you haven't responded to them or acknolwedged them at all.
posted by Falconetti at 1:54 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


Where is the intersection between acknowledging something and responding to it? What is your definition of earnestness? Please identify the totality of your cultural expectations.
posted by nathancaswell at 2:00 PM on May 17, 2013


You're asking about the differences between street photography, a glance by a neighbor, and being intentionally and surreptitiously pursued, and you seem to want a bright line between those three things.

I'm sorry that I've given that impression. I'm not looking for a bright line at all. I'm trying to discuss the issues that these photographs provoke, and I'm curious about why we consider them creepy and other things not, and at prodding at that social agreement. I am not saying that these photographs aren't creepy. I am saying that I'd like to talk about that rather than just state it, because that's what they invite me to do.

Just like everything else when it comes to these questions, what is "correct" is based primarily on shared cultural expectations, not rational deducement.

I agree with that, and I'm fascinated by those shared cultural expectations and how they shape themselves depending on various contexts. In my reading, these photographs are drawing attention to that. That doesn't make them not violations.

I've posed a few questions to you, but you haven't responded to them or acknolwedged them at all.

I'm sorry. I thought that my asking you more about the bases underlying your questions was a form of acknowledgement.
posted by shakespeherian at 2:02 PM on May 17, 2013


So, It's not true!, except in the only jurisdiction relevant to this discussion.

The comment I was responding to didn't put it as a jurisdictional legal matter, but only offered very generally that "one has the same expectations of privacy in their own home as they do out on the street." That's not generally true. There's a long history of the law making exactly that distinction, though the distinction may be fuzzier in NY since they don't have specific peeping tom laws on the books--so in a civil court, you might be able to make a case even in this particular case, though not under criminal law.
posted by saulgoodman at 2:04 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I am thinking what a hoot it would be to photograph his photographs from outside the gallery window and then sell them as my own photographs, as art about his art, which is not a copyright violation I presume if the original was publicly visible through a window and I was taking a picture of the window.

Howdy, neighbor, and fuck you too.

Goddamn he deserves to be eaten by really hungry, filthy, nasty NYC rats.
posted by spitbull at 2:05 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a tricky thing here because I think shakespeherian and others are approaching this discussion because of an interest in the pieces themselves and how they provoke and challenge our expectations of private vs public which, yeah, is of course a fertile and fascinating thing to talk about.

But on the other hand, other folks are approaching this from the angle that there is at least an air of victimization around this whole mess, and the public vs. private debate seems to wash over that fact and it causes tension. In a mild sense they are doubly victimized: once by the spying, and once by being used as props to springboard discussion.
posted by Think_Long at 2:07 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


> it seems (to me, at least) like we're dealing with an unspoken social agreement that because you're in your home, your glass windows are opaque.

If anything I'd describe it as the opposite. Like a lot of social agreements, avoiding staring through windows is exercising a small effort to help other people avoid needing disproportionately burdensome countermeasures. Cover your mouth when you sneeze vs. everyone wear face masks at all times.

We're aware that windows are not opaque, but it's unpleasant to hole yourself up whenever you want a moment of privacy, so we try to help out by being discrete.
posted by lucidium at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


No really I'm fine with him doing this being "legal," I just want to see those rats eating him.
posted by spitbull at 2:08 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


What do people think of the following scenario?

Instead of taking a shot of individual windows, he takes a very high resolution picture of the entire facade of the building, with enough detail that those so inclined can browse with a loupe from window to window, virtually peeping.
posted by sutt at 2:11 PM on May 17, 2013


This discussion of windows and expectations of privacy reminds me why my dream home is a kind of hacienda built around an interior courtyard; windowless white walls facing the outside; interior rooms opening out onto the courtyard within.

----------------
And little BB gun AA cannons to shoot down wandering quad-copters.
posted by notyou at 2:15 PM on May 17, 2013


But he IS advertising a product...the actual photo itself is for sale. He's using their likenesses for his personal gain.

A general answer to this without touching on the more delicate issue of expectations of privacy is here:

"Nussenzweig v. diCorcia is a decision by the New York Supreme Court in New York County, holding that a photographer could display, publish, and sell street photography without the consent of the subjects of those photographs."

How is this so different in subject from Robert Frank's Americans?

Maybe it's not. Maybe The Americans couldn't exist in our time. Street photographers are still working, but is the golden age over? My gut feeling about the difference here is the perceived element of surveillance. As a photographer I'm far more concerned about violating the social contract than making sure something is technically legal. I don't care for this work, and I say that even as someone who believes strongly in being able to take pictures in public. One of the key elements of street photography as a genre, in all of its dated and macho glory, is being there—not hiding behind some long lens. I know I've tried to make this point before, and I'm aware of its problematic nature, but I'm still not comfortable dismissing all public photography because of creepshots.

Why street photography is facing a moment of truth
posted by Lorin at 2:16 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


The problem isn't that the people in the apartments are being observed, the problem is that they're being used

Regardless of the status of your windows/curtains/choice to live in NYC you should be able to screw around in your own house without worrying that SURPRISE you are now the subject of an art installation and a springboard for interesting discussion!

And I don't think street photography is inherently non-problematic but if you're out on the streets at least you know you're in the wild and shit can happen so you don't let your guard down 100%. Like you would in your own home.
posted by prize bull octorok at 2:19 PM on May 17, 2013 [11 favorites]


Thinking out loud a bit, I wonder if "creepy" could be partially defined as "excessive attention". You expect to receive some level of attention in whatever situation, and getting a lot more than that is disturbing. Candid shots aren't creepy, unless the person has five hundred shots of you in a shoebox. A colleague knowing you like to eat lunch at that one place isn't, knowing your toilet schedule afterwards is (or at least bringing it up is).
posted by lucidium at 2:23 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


These questions about what is and what isn't private are very interesting to me. I've recently discovered Watson/Holmes fanfiction, and have been enjoying some of it purely as fun stuff to read. But I've also been very interested in fan culture in general, in what people are doing with it. Yesterday, I happened upon a fanfic recommendations list that included real-life people as characters. So, a fanfiction not about Sherlock Holmes and John Watson (who look exactly like Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman) but actually about Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman, say. Or Jared Padalecki and Jensen Ackles, instead of Sam and Dean Winchester. And the idea of writing fan fiction about real people was very disturbing to me (more disturbing than the Sherlock/Watson tentacle porn I stumbled on, or the one where John is a dragon). I didn't even click on any of it out of curiosity, as I had with other things I knew I wouldn't necessarily like. It crossed a boundary for me.

But it's hard to say exactly why that crossed a boundary. I mean, I have looked at fan art that is representations of the actors as the characters they play, and while fan art doesn't do anything for me, I didn't have that same sense of, "this feels wrong, and I don't want to participate in it." But an image of the character and an image of the actor could be almost-identical pictures.

So all these questions about why it's OK to be seen through a window, but not to be photographed through it, or why it's OK to be photographed but not for those photographs to be put on display, are very interesting to me. I have my own sort of visceral sense of what I feel is OK (I'm with folks who think being photographed through a window crosses a line) but I'm not sure I can make a rational argument for it that will hold up, especially when it's clear that other people's response is so different that it would lead them to reject any "objective" argument I attempted to make, just as I have trouble imaginging myself being convinced by any of the arguments saying that it's OK to take photos like this without people's knowledge. Indeed, I've read the whole thread (except what's been posted while I've been typing) without having my mind changed.

Not sure I have a point. Just some rambling that boils down to, "I find this argument and my own reactions to the photos interesting!"
posted by not that girl at 2:26 PM on May 17, 2013 [3 favorites]


What if instead of photographic documentation, the art was short stories about exactly what was photographed. Would that make a difference? We read photographs, we read text... I'm not sure I see a clear distinction.

When I first got a camera the magic was that I was like one of those people with photographic memory. Photographs, text and sketching are all part of my thought process now.

There's reasonable questions to be asked about this, to be sure, but I think the default assumption here should be "he didn't identify anyone, so while I may think he's creepy, meh". I'm open to other thoughts though (he said before running away to visit a museum for the next few hours).
posted by tychotesla at 2:28 PM on May 17, 2013


Well, he sure has got people talking. Controversy=exposure: mission accomplished?
posted by Devils Rancher at 2:32 PM on May 17, 2013


Imma gonna skip the main controversy and get to the 'art' thing: The movie Rear Window. Not exactly unexplored territory. The photos may be great (I can't judge) but to wind it up as like found art or something is just douchebaggery.
posted by angrycat at 2:39 PM on May 17, 2013


(i mean the photographer is being a douche, not those of you who may like the photos)
posted by angrycat at 2:39 PM on May 17, 2013


I would not necessarily think, "Oh, wait -- the blinds are half-up; perhaps someone will take a photo through my window with a telephoto lens of me crying and sell it in a gallery so that it can hang over someone's couch forever."

These photographs, once purchased, are most likely going to be put in drawers until they have accrued sufficient value to be resold for a huge profit. Then they will be put in new drawers.
posted by Sys Rq at 2:40 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]




These photographs are currently available for view on the Internet, not just in a gallery.

posted by Falconetti at 2:42 PM on May 17, 2013


I do not get the debate here. He's violated Stephanie's law. It's a Class E felony which is punishable by up to four years imprisonment for first offenders, and up to seven years for repeat offences (§70.00[2][e] New York Penal Code, §250.5 New York Penal Code).

The two minutes of internet research I put into learning that also taught me that the reason we have such laws is to stop child pornographers. So besides being an idiot for not looking up what laws your gimmick for attention might break, the artist has successfully provoked some thought provoking questions like - what other pictures has he taken?

If you live in NYC and this behavior pisses you off - rather than close your blinds and argue with morons who believe breaking the law in-the-name-of-art should have no consequences, just dial up your local police department and tell them you have evidence of a potential child pornographer active in your neighborhood. That should take care of it.
posted by astrobiophysican at 2:50 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


How is this a violation of Stephanie's Law? I don't think you are reading the law right - most of the sections deal in some way or another installing a device for recording images or activities that relate to sex or intimate body parts and none of the photos are of such things. Can you elucidate exactly why you think this is a violation of that statute?
posted by Falconetti at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2013


From my quick perusal, it looks like Stephanie's law was enacted to prevent the recording and distribution of sexually salacious materials. Not sure how any of the photos depicted here qualify.

And I still ask: what if this had been a photo of the entire facade of the building, and it was high detail enough that you could see the goings on in any window if you magnified it enough?

And what about those nighttime shots of skyscrapers where you can see people working inside? Are those out of bounds as well?

I'm curious to know where the line is drawn.
posted by sutt at 2:57 PM on May 17, 2013


Very commercial work, imo.. formal and vapid. Nothing new..

I prefer artists like John Shabel, Sam Samore, Trevor Paglen, Julia Scher, Sophie Calle etc.. where the work is about something rather than just some pretty pictures that, in the end, are just pretty and forgettable. For a great show traveling show on the subject see EXPOSED: VOYEURISM, SURVEILLANCE AND THE CAMERA SINCE 1870, curated by Sandra S. Phillips originally at SF MOMA but traveling. youtube here....

Catalogue available
posted by snaparapans at 2:59 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm curious to know where the line is drawn.

This is probably the point of the artwork; clearly this thread shows that people have different opinions on where the line should be drawn. I don't think this is a "gimmick" per se but a legitimate exploration of a theme, and one that turned out nicely from an aesthetic perspective.

It's highly unlikely that laws are being broken here, despite what "2 minutes of internet research" may or may not show, but that doesn't mean that new laws won't enacted in response to something like this.

Generally most people don't seem to care much about their privacy when the Government of huge corporations are violating it previously unimaginable and all-encompassing ways, but when an artist spies on you and publishes the work, it feels more visceral and shocking. It must be an extremely disconcerting feeling for the subjects of this work to recognize themselves in these images, and I think all of us can easily put ourselves in that position. In some ways the photographer has othered himself rather than his subjects; we feel empathy for the neighbors and distate for the photographer, despite the pretty pictures he's created for us to view.
posted by cell divide at 3:03 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


RE: sutt and Falconett: this is why I made the link to the amendment that clarifies such questions: ""Place and time when a person has a reasonable expectation of privacy."

Do you know how people are always like "he seemed like such a nice guy... who would have thought he was keeping three woman trapped in his closet." Someone who is sitting in the dark with a camera and then posting them on the internet falls well within the range of unusual/suspicious behavior. I'm not saying he's guilty. I don't have access to his camera nor am I a jury of his peers. But I think he's clearly invited a visit from the cops. If someone on the blue has been sitting next to him 24 hours a day and can say he isn't snapping pictures of kids in the bath... then you can testify at his trial. I think it's pretty clear what the intent of the law is.
posted by astrobiophysican at 3:04 PM on May 17, 2013


I suppose if this art is profitable he will be moving to a new apartment........With a good view of a different apartment building.
posted by notreally at 3:09 PM on May 17, 2013


astrobiophysician, I read the amendment, I still don't see how that works. The phrase "place and time" is used in two sections:

1. For his or her own, or another person's amusement, entertainment,
or profit, or for the purpose of degrading or abusing a person, he or
she intentionally uses or installs, or permits the utilization or
installation of an imaging device to surreptitiously view, broadcast or
record a person dressing or undressing or the sexual or other intimate
parts of such person
at a place and time when such person has a reason-
able expectation of privacy, without such person's knowledge or consent.


Here, regardless of the clarification to "place and time" the image or recording must be of a person "dressing or undressing or the sexual or other intimate parts of such person" to be in violation of the statute. None of the photos involve such matters, so are not inviolation of the statute.

2. For his or her own, or another person's sexual arousal or sexual
gratification
, he or she intentionally uses or installs, or permits the
utilization or installation of an imaging device to surreptitiously
view, broadcast or record a person dressing or undressing or the sexual
or other intimate parts of such person at a place and time when such
person has a reasonable expectation of privacy, without such person's
knowledge or consent.

Again, regardless of the clarifying amendment, the images or recording must be "for...sexual arousal or gratification." None of the photos seems to remotely be about sexual arousal or gratification.
posted by Falconetti at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2013


I do not get the debate here. He's violated Stephanie's law. ... The two minutes of internet research I put into learning that...

... shows you'd be well served by reading the text of the law.

It's right there in the first definition:

1. "Place and time when a person has a reasonable expectation of
privacy" means a place and time when a reasonable person would believe
that he or she could fully disrobe in privacy.
(emphasis mine)

The reasonable person standard trips everyone up.
posted by Cool Papa Bell at 3:12 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


"I turned to the residents of a glass-walled apartment building across the street from my NYC studio. The Neighbors don’t know they are being photographed ..."

The prevenge of the soon to be displaced.
posted by jamjam at 3:13 PM on May 17, 2013


"Place and time when a person has a reasonable expectation of
privacy" means a place and time when a reasonable person would believe
that he or she could fully disrobe in privacy. (emphasis mine)


But that's only part of it. You can't divorce that bit from the rest of it, where they discuss the transmission and or sale of sexually explicit photographs derived from such surveillance, which are requirements for the act to be illegal.
posted by sutt at 3:20 PM on May 17, 2013


If it were one chance shot, or taken with a normal range camera, I don't think I'd be as creeped out. But he must have hundreds of other photos and shots, taken with a really great, long-range lens. It's one thing to be that student couple from last year or so who had sex against the plate glass windows in so public a way that they clearly knew they were going to be seen. What if anyone in that building just really wanted sex on the floor of the living room, though? Or a chance run for coffee in the buff? Or say you had a really bad breakup by the window, or learned that a loved one died? He might have a record of it; he might sell it; it might just live on a drive until who knows.

There's a photo set of a celebrity, taken with a long-range camera, in which it appears that she's just gotten engaged and perhaps performs a sexual act on her partner. There's another with a duchess, naked, partially nude, similarly taken without consent. And those are both celebrities who know to be wary of cameras and windows! Just because some of these are beautifully framed doesn't somehow make them a different kind of terrible.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Oh God, yeah, John Shabel. When I saw this story this morning I immediately remembered how desperately I wanted something from the Passengers series. Is it different because these people are nominally in "public"?
posted by The Bellman at 3:21 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


If this is legal now, it won't be as soon as people begin to grasp the implications of the coming swarms of tiny drones flying around all over the place.
posted by jamjam at 3:22 PM on May 17, 2013


What if anyone in that building just really wanted sex on the floor of the living room, though? Or a chance run for coffee in the buff?

There are laws covering that sort of thing; they'd be the guilty party. (What if there was a kid on the balcony across the street?)
posted by Sys Rq at 3:24 PM on May 17, 2013


The Bellman Is it different because these people are nominally in "public"?

No. it is because those are pictures made by an interesting artist, imo.
posted by snaparapans at 3:24 PM on May 17, 2013


snaparapans: No question about it, I agree with you. But I didn't mean is the artistic merit different, I meant why the sudden outrage over something we have seen (in "the art") for at least 20 years, if not much longer?
posted by The Bellman at 3:29 PM on May 17, 2013


If you did not know the story, the pictures would just be innocuous portraits, formal, modernist, magazine worthy..

Once you know the story it becomes about someone sitting in their apartment exploiting others for personal gain. Instead of the work being about voyeurism or surveillance it is those things. A too clever idea, small minded, where the actual pictures do not relate to anything interesting. Fluff, that becomes annoying when you know where it came from. That is why these pictures do not measure up to other artists working with ideas of voyeurism or surveillance, imo.
posted by snaparapans at 3:31 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


sutt: this whole debate is one of two things:

1) either a dead end debate on semantics or..
2) "I know it when I see it." - a social convention that shifts with time.

You are right that with wide angle lenses etc... privacy is becoming an artifact of the past. But if you look at the tone and number of people that are not o.k. with this; defending this kind of overt violation of people's privacy isn't really the place to make that case. The dude sat in the dark taking pictures of people in their homes. Not nice. Nor would you like it if he lived across the street from you. It isn't clever. It isn't deep. Laws are made so we can annoy those who annoy us and this guy wanted to pick everyone's nose with his camera.
posted by astrobiophysican at 3:34 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Sudden outrage because this feels very wrong for most people. The work is not generous, people instinctive feel the selfishness once they know the story. And that is not to say selfish motives cannot generate generous work, great artists accomplish that.
posted by snaparapans at 3:36 PM on May 17, 2013


I meant why the sudden outrage over something we have seen (in "the art") for at least 20 years, if not much longer?

Because attitudes towards cameras have been poisoned by a sense of powerlessness in the face of ubiquitous state and corporate surveillance. When an individual actor makes use of the same technology it's only natural to want to see them crushed.
posted by Lorin at 3:39 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


About a month ago, I got into a yelling match with one of my neighbors from the next building over. I have a lot of cameras in my house, and I'm working on fixing a Bronica right now (which is a big studio camera with a heavy lens on a tripod). It had been sitting next to the window (and my kitchen table/desk) for about three weeks when this guy shouted, "Hey, what's that camera?" I didn't hear him the first time, and he shouted it again. I shouted back, "Nothing. It doesn't work."

Then, when I was out taking out the trash, he starts bellowing at me that I have to take the camera down, right now. I told him that the camera didn't work (and that I was happy to show him the camera so he could see it), and he kept going about how he was going to call the cops and I had to move the camera right then. It devolved into, "You tough guy, you gotta make trouble here?" kinda quasi threats from him, and I flatly refused to move the camera. Somebody shouting at me isn't going to make me change my mind.

He kept yelling that he wasn't comfortable and that I could be "taking pictures of his kids." He told me that he was going to get surveillance cameras and put them up to look in my windows, and I told him to go ahead. He'd be breaking the law; I'm not.

But ultimately, it sort of reinforced that consent is nice for photography and I generally try to get it, but if it comes down to it, I don't think it's necessary. I certainly wouldn't ask for his consent to shoot him going further, and because he's such an asshole, I'm actually more likely to take pictures of him.

(I ended up moving the camera because, you know, I'm still working on it and there was no particular reason for it to be there, but I kept it up longer than I would have if he had just asked nicely.)
posted by klangklangston at 3:43 PM on May 17, 2013 [2 favorites]


astrobiophysician:

I don't understand what you're getting at. I wasn't defending anything. I did take issue with what I think is a misreading of "Stephanie's Law", but I wasn't defending the dude by doing so.

I'm simply curious to know what people felt about other takes on similar subject matter, and where they personally drew the line. Why does this feel wrong to them, but a high resolution shot of a full building facade does not? Is it the tight focus? Even though nothing salacious is being shown here? If this was a facade of a skyscraper, you could perhaps see people inside, working at their office desks, or perhaps in their homes, and even recognize them. How does that differ from what we're talking about here, other than the photographer's description of how the photos were taken, along with the tighter focus on particular windows?
posted by sutt at 3:45 PM on May 17, 2013


There are laws covering that sort of thing; they'd be the guilty party. (What if there was a kid on the balcony across the street?)

I mean though is the kid Superman? Some of these look like shots that would never have been visible with a normal set of human eyes.
posted by jetlagaddict at 3:47 PM on May 17, 2013


When an individual actor makes use of the same technology it's only natural to want to see them crushed.

No, not crushed. Eaten by rats.
posted by spitbull at 3:54 PM on May 17, 2013


Interesting, clearly a nerve touched, but it all kinda devolves to:

...he starts bellowing at me that I have to take the camera down, right now.

Here's a challenge, (without breaking into my house) find a picture of me. I've been on the internet longer than you but other than my left hand in a picture on my brothers facebook page I'm pretty much invisible. *

I do think that the idea of privacy that many folks have theses days will soon be considered a short lived historical quirk, kind of like the Shakers (lovely folks but did not propagate) or true Spanish Anarchists. A lovely idea but not at all realistic or particularly worth bothering about other than in a discussion of historical novels.

* I've really been meaning to get profile pictures sprinkled around as you somewhat stand out without a fuzzy icon photo but I want a good image and I am a really bad judge of what makes a good image of me, don't like any, thus no photos so far.
posted by sammyo at 4:00 PM on May 17, 2013


I think his surreptitious use of a telephoto lens to invade the visual boundaries of these homes *seems* more morally ambiguous than it should not just because ART but also because these subjects are rich, privileged people. No one is used to seeing them as exploited subjects. Ironic.
posted by third rail at 4:04 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


we're totally used to seeing the rich exploited - we just normally call them celebrities or socialites.
posted by nadawi at 4:26 PM on May 17, 2013


Yeah, the financial situation of the subjects has not one single time factored into my extreme distaste for this project.
posted by elizardbits at 4:28 PM on May 17, 2013 [6 favorites]


Also, somewhat tangentially, I wonder if the subjects, once having identified themselves in the photos, would be able to somehow legally compel him to destroy or turn over any other photos he may have taken of them without their knowledge. As I mentioned above, these are most certainly not the only photos he has of these people.
posted by elizardbits at 4:30 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Hmm. I'm not really upset by this project, although I do see how some people would be. I think if he was showing photos of people crying or fighting or whatever, I might feel differently, but he isn't. Actually, on second thought, I do think the whole explanation of what he is doing is really lame and sensationalist, but I'm not upset by the photos themselves or how they were taken.
posted by snofoam at 4:34 PM on May 17, 2013


Oh my... the building is quite a fish tank.. did not realize until now that it is the Zinc Building.. I know it well and have looked into the windows myself from friends lofts in the neighborhood... hard not to.

But still, the photographs are less than interesting to me and mean spirited once you know the story. Seeing that he moved into the neighborhood in 1993, he more than likely had had his view blocked by the building which went up a few years ago.. There used to be a small car repair shop on that site. Maybe this work is some kind of vengeance against the "new" rich people that have moved into the neighborhood, and particularly against those across the street blocking his view. The work has a bad vibe in any case, imo.
posted by snaparapans at 4:43 PM on May 17, 2013 [4 favorites]


The financial situation of the subjects has not one single time factored into my extreme distaste for this project.

Yeah, that is actually what I mean. The class issue is invisible because they seem to be on equal terrain in that regard with the artist. But people who are wrestling with this as a moral quandary between privacy and art might not be so ambivalent if the subjects were, for instance, cultural others who were objecting to being photographed. It would be a clearer issue given the ways we normally think of power and photography.
In other words, I do think it would be more obviously grotesque to more viewers who normally think about power and image if there were an obvious financial/class disparity between the photographer and the objects of his gaze.
posted by third rail at 5:02 PM on May 17, 2013


shakespeherian: "Who said art gets to trumps morality? All I'm saying is that issues of morality don't invalidate something as art, and that art is supposed to wrestle with issues of morality and ask questions about it."

Getting people talking and arguing about morality is one thing (a good thing), but this isn't just a moral issue; this art has serious legal implications for all of our individual privacy rights. This art endangers our privacy rights because it whittles away at the legal standard of "reasonable expectation of privacy," because that standard is tied to societal norms. By normalizing work like this, we're lowering the bar on our expectation of privacy. I don't think everyone is okay with being photographed while bent over next to window, and having the ensuing picture of one's butt being displayed, sold, and published on the internet.

I might be less appalled by this work if I thought the intent of the artist was to use this work to incite controversy necessary to increase and protect our rights to privacy. However, the artist's own words seem to indicate a contrary intention.
posted by Dr. Zira at 5:07 PM on May 17, 2013 [5 favorites]


[not] an obvious financial/class disparity between the photographer and the objects of his gaze...

Judging from the story about the guy.. bought his loft in "93 for $100K... I would bet that he feels that there is a big class difference between him and those living in the Zinc building.. those condos went for millions a few years ago..
posted by snaparapans at 5:07 PM on May 17, 2013


So even more so then if he feels he is photographing up. He isn't thinking about the power issues because that isn't the way we usually configure it. Or even if he would be oblivious to any power issues given his lack of empathy, the call out would be clearer, I bet, if this wasn't the case.
posted by third rail at 5:09 PM on May 17, 2013


Well, he may not be thinking about power issues that you are interested in, but I am not so sure that financial disparity (power/class/taste) is not a motiving factor here, given the story. Zinc Buliding
posted by snaparapans at 5:28 PM on May 17, 2013


>: "It's certainly creepy, but ultimately how is it any different than any other documentary photography being shown in a fine art setting? Do war photographers release all of their subjects? "

There is a obvious difference between news photography and art photography.

/: "It's like the difference between having a loud fight that you can expect your neighbors to hear, and having someone sneak an amplifying microphone up against your window during a quiet conversation."

Or heck a laser mic.
posted by Mitheral at 5:47 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


...Seems like you can call anything "art" and get away with it- get paid for it!- if you're just pretentious enough. Especially if you're "creating controversy" (being an ass).
Reminds me of the the guy who stole people's photos from Apple Stores, and the just-straight-out art theif "artist" who stole other peoples art and then showed it as his own show.

It's like catching a peeping tom and him saying "No officer, you don't understand—that person getting out of their tub is part of my art project."

If this show should be called anything, how about "Evidence"? (by the cops)
posted by blueberry at 6:29 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


There is a obvious difference between news photography and art photography.

Not so obvious.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 6:50 PM on May 17, 2013


What a frustrating thread. People are speculating about what is and isn't legal from pure intuition. And it's just dumb.

Here's the thing: as saulgoodman wrote, around the US there's lots of laws on the books and precedence that allow a reasonable expectation of privacy in one's home and that being visible through one's window is not equivalent to being in public. Full stop. Anyone that argues that just because one is visible through a window means that one is by definition in public and has no legal right to privacy is flat wrong.

Meanwhile, there are limits in the other direction, as well. Just because you have an expectation of privacy in your home even when you're visible through a window doesn't mean that you have no legal responsibility for the public visibility of what you do. You can't, for example, parade yourself nude or have sex while being visible to children. That doesn't mean, contrary to Sys Rq's comment, that no one in a high-rise can ever have sex or be nude with their curtains open because of the mere possibility of a child in a building across the street being able to see ... that's not sufficient.

As others have written, there's no absolute standard for this in either direction. If you're walking down the street and you look in someone's window and they're naked, you've not done anything wrong. If you stand on the sidewalk and watch then when they're nude for a hour, you have. Being visibly nude in your living room isn't going to get you in trouble, but walking around nude in front your living room window while the local kids are walking home from the bus stop will.

In some jurisdictions, especially given that the photographer is using a telephoto lens, he's spending hours taking photographs, and the subjects are not always fully clothed, he would be breaking the law.

But legality is only the first issue. There's also the simple matter of civility and exploitation involved in this. The discussions above about releases for street photography or filming is relevant in that you definitely don't have a legal requirement to get releases (except if you use the photography for certain purposes, particularly advertising) but, even so, quite a few photographers and filmmakers get releases anyway. Especially for certain kinds of shots and used for certain kinds of purposes. Because it's often the right thing to do and it's also the smart thing to do in terms of avoiding trouble down the line.

This project is interesting and many of these photos are lovely, but there was a right way to do this and he didn't do it that way.

Instead, he did it the wrong way specifically because he privileged the transgressiveness of it over all other considerations. He could have done this in such a way that he got consent, at least after the fact. The only thing that would have changed would be to eliminate the transgression. It's telling that he didn't do this. So the transgression is important, which is also demonstrated by how the larger portion of shakespherian's and others' interest in this is that it raises these issues and that it certainly accounts for the majority of the media interest.

Here's the thing: I don't think that's a very interesting primary theme, but insofar as he has made it his primary theme, it's revealing that he denies that it is. He's explicitly claiming that his subjects have all the responsibility here in placing themselves on a "stage" and therefore he's not being transgressive.

So his choices and statements show that he's trying to have it both ways, which reveals that he doesn't have the personal integrity that his art is asking of him. He's a coward. Which is an aesthetic reason to be offended in addition to all the other more obvious reasons.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 6:53 PM on May 17, 2013 [18 favorites]


I find it quite incredible that some people find this okay.

Imagine you went around your neighbors house and on their wall were framed, professionally printed prints of you and your family on their wall, or perhaps just your husband, or girlfriend. Photos taken through open windows, cracks in curtains and the like. How would you react? Would your reaction be the same if your faces were somehow obscured?

Are there a thousand gray areas? Yes, and though there might be no legal reason against it, it breaks the code that makes a good society function. In a city you are hyper aware of this, you don't listen to the person talking on their phone, you build a little invisible shield to give people a little more privacy, even when you're crammed next to them on a subway-- it's basic politeness and civility. Maybe that's just a Londoner talking and it's different in the states, but if it is, sheesh, that's just sad.
posted by Static Vagabond at 7:30 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ivan- care to quote some case law? Because it seems eminently reasonable to assume that windows are transparent in both directions.

Maybe I'm hyper sensitive to this: I have nosy neighbors and have, on countless occasions, seen them looking up into my house from the parking lot. And then mentioning it to me. So it seems perfectly obvious to me that anything I do in front of an uncovered window is visible to the public. And that's why I installed some of that delightful frosted window contact paper. Now all they do is mention when they notice my lights on...

(I'm not saying it isn't creepy, because it is. But it's not illegal as far as I know. This case seems to agree.)
posted by gjc at 7:40 PM on May 17, 2013


Bunny Ultramod: "Not so obvious."

Well of course news photography is also art photography; News photography is a sub set. But we allow special privileges to news photography that we don't extend to the super set of art.
posted by Mitheral at 7:59 PM on May 17, 2013


"Maybe that's just a Londoner talking and it's different in the states, but if it is, sheesh, that's just sad."

There's a little bit of this. I've been involved in quite a few debates about privacy here and elsewhere, especially because I have heterodox beliefs about internet privacy, and one thing I encounter over and over and over is the argument that if you don't affirmatively do something to protect your privacy, you have no expectation of privacy and you have no right to complain about violations of your privacy.

And it's not only about privacy. This comes up all the time about any sort of criminal or personal violation — if you don't lock your door, you're responsible for being robbed. If you walk through a dangerous neighborhood at night, you're responsible for being assaulted. And so on.

Americans, even progressive Americans, have strongly internalized a weird hybrid of libertarianism, might-makes-right, victim-blaming and zero-sum responsibility for ethical and moral violations. It has a lot to do with the cultural bias toward individualism and away from communitarianism.

"Ivan- care to quote some case law? Because it seems eminently reasonable to assume that windows are transparent in both directions."

Well, that it seems reasonable to you is not a reliable guide for this sort of thing.

I don't have any citations, but peeping tom laws are a good place for you to begin googling. Some are specific to trespassing violations, but others don't require it. Which is to say, it can be illegal voyeurism from a public location or one's own home into someone else's home. The peeping tom laws almost all require some kind of intrusion on visual physical intimacy, though, such as sex or nudity, or are specific to bedrooms or bathrooms. But those requirements, while narrowing the scope, don't follow your intuition that if it's visible through your window then it can't possibly be illegal for someone to observe it under any circumstances.
posted by Ivan Fyodorovich at 8:06 PM on May 17, 2013


google street view
posted by Annika Cicada at 8:40 PM on May 17, 2013


Anyone that argues that just because one is visible through a window means that one is by definition in public and has no legal right to privacy is flat wrong.

I think you're referring to me here, but I haven't argued this. I am referring specifically to this set of photos; if they are illegal, I'd be curious to hear why.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:52 PM on May 17, 2013


Perhaps I wasn't clear that I was only referring to this set pf photos, though; I apologize for the lack of clarity.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 8:54 PM on May 17, 2013


"Maybe that's just a Londoner talking and it's different in the states, but if it is, sheesh, that's just sad."

There's a little bit of this.


Not for me. I'm an American and a New Yorker and think this is appalling. So have many others and New Yorkers in this thread. Let's not make this an Americans vs. others thing.
posted by sweetkid at 9:00 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


I'm glad to see his provocation worked. Art still operates, I see.
posted by cmoj at 10:28 PM on May 17, 2013


too bad we can't put all this moral indignation on a bus and drive it to bluffdale
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 11:11 PM on May 17, 2013


It's okay to have a discussion about art and privacy that is not the same discussion as government surveillance.

A couple of things I noted about "The Neighbors" is that it looks like the gallery and the artist's web site have deleted the earlier text about the show that seemed to deliberately and specifically play up the voyeur/stalker/creepy angle and substituted a much more anodyne description that refers to the work as "social documentation," a term not mentioned at all in the original text. The Tribeca Citizen quotes from the earlier version, and cached pages at Google have the gallery's original text:
Arne Svenson
The Neighbors

May 9- June 29, 2013

For my subjects there is no question of privacy; they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high.

Through the death of a birding friend I obtained his telephoto lens. Having no interest in birds, I turned to the residents of a glass-walled apartment building across the street from my NYC studio. The Neighbors don't know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs. I am not unlike the birder, quietly waiting for hours, watching for the flutter of a hand or the movement of a curtain as an indication that there is life within.

As the Neighbors move into and out of their prosceniums, divergent narratives are created in the segmented quadrants. Day and night, obstructed only by reflections, the patina of dust on glass and the occasional pulled curtain I am at the window, waiting for those curtains to part again and for the tableaus to materialize, for the performance to begin.
The Tribeca Citizen article also includes a photo with a child in it (actually the most unsettling and provocative of all the images, and, to me, perhaps the only truly disturbing one in itself), which I assume has been removed from the gallery and artist sites, and likely entirely from the show itself. (I would guess that lawyers have been consulted.)
posted by taz at 11:58 PM on May 17, 2013 [1 favorite]


The peeping tom laws almost all require some kind of intrusion on visual physical intimacy, though, such as sex or nudity, or are specific to bedrooms or bathrooms. But those requirements, while narrowing the scope, don't follow your intuition that if it's visible through your window then it can't possibly be illegal for someone to observe it under any circumstances.

It's not my intuition, it is the reasonableness doctrine. A reasonable person would have to agree that windows are transparent, and if the window is visible from the street or across the alley, then what is happening inside the window is also visible barring some effort to conceal it.

Also, you brought it up. So the onus is on you to provide some kind of citation for your full stop declaration.
posted by gjc at 12:21 AM on May 18, 2013


Being Naked in His Own Home Lands Man Sexual Assault Charges
posted by homunculus at 2:43 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Camera-equipped quadrotor drones peeking in windows filming for a "reality porn" site.

Gonna happen, mark my words. I'm surprised it hasn't happened already.


So This Is How It Begins: Guy Refuses to Stop Drone-Spying on Seattle Woman
posted by homunculus at 2:44 AM on May 18, 2013


Author of Photography Is Not A Crime blog seems to think that this, actually, is one of those cases where it probably should be a crime.
posted by zennie at 4:51 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Yeah, New Yorker on a high floor with windows, omg, here. And where I live I could take pics all day long. I can see the windows of two luxury trendy hotels from my kitchen right now. I can see the windows of at least one celebrity. We are the highest building for several blocks and if I had a telephoto lens (actully i have many, but they live at work) I could probably make good money as a paparazzo given my neighborhood.

New Yorkers do not do this. It's our culture, never mind the law. It's how we deal with living in each others' laps. This gob-faced idiot broke the social contract for art. And money. I hope he has no more friends.

I tried to imagine this happening in other cities with, um, different cultures and laws.

I wonder what might happen if he tried it in a city with looser gun laws and robust home defense exceptions -- let's say Houston, where you can shoot an intruder you think might be robbing your *neighbor's* house with impunity, and someone shoots a .223 round right into his camera while he is clicking away.

A quality rifle sight works just like that camera lens, except it has crosshairs. Asshole.

Just sayin' it's possible. And a Texas jury would acquit you if you said you thought he was taking naked pictures of your kids, too.
posted by spitbull at 5:58 AM on May 18, 2013


Those photographs are incredibly beautiful. While there is definitely a serious ethical issue in the way he goes about getting these shots and one could easily imagine it producing images that it would be deeply transgressive to publish, these images don't strike me as particularly troubling in and of themselves. I think if we'd had the gallery without any context as to how he gets the shots none of us would have been particularly "creeped out" by them. If I wandered into a gallery showing these photos and I recognized myself in any of them I wouldn't give a hoot.
posted by yoink at 6:32 AM on May 18, 2013


YMMV, I'd be incensed.
posted by Mitheral at 7:03 AM on May 18, 2013


There's a photo set of a celebrity, taken with a long-range camera, in which it appears that she's just gotten engaged and perhaps performs a sexual act on her partner. There's another with a duchess, naked, partially nude, similarly taken without consent. And those are both celebrities who know to be wary of cameras and windows! Just because some of these are beautifully framed doesn't somehow make them a different kind of terrible.

I think publishing photos of somebody taken without their consent in which they can be recognized and in which they're either naked or performing a sex act are so obviously a "different kind of terrible" from these photos that I find hard to imagine what framework you're bringing to bear to arrive at your conclusion. Are you really suggesting that if you walked into a gallery and saw a photo of your fully clothed back pressed up against a window pane in your house/apartment taken while you were sitting their reading you'd feel exactly the same degree and kind of outrage as if you saw a photo of yourself naked and engaged in a sexual act--with your face clearly identifiable?
posted by yoink at 7:15 AM on May 18, 2013


I don't even think these are very interesting aesthetically because the artist's vision is deadening. He is interested in how these people look like paintings. #14 attempts to make the woman look like a Vermeer. Yes, it is "beautiful," but in a way that is weirdly decorative. I think it expresses a static vision that is more about the artist's own love of his own hyperaestheticism than about any vitality in his subjects. I find this an ultimately narcissistic vision.
posted by third rail at 7:41 AM on May 18, 2013


Then there was the Peep Show at the Standard Hote. The upscale west village neighbors were outraged at the saturday night line up of gawkers on the Highline ... they were concerned not so much about themselves being exposed to the naughtiness being performed in plain sight but what about the children.
posted by snaparapans at 7:42 AM on May 18, 2013


from homunculus's link above:
John Villasenor, author of a recent Harvard Journal of Law and Public Policy article about the laws governing drones and privacy, explained to me over email.....

...As for the privacy concerns, one of the most important questions is what was being photographed. "If the camera on the drone was always aimed at the public street," Villasenor writes, "then that's very different than if it was capturing images into the home through the window."
posted by snaparapans at 7:52 AM on May 18, 2013


New Yorkers do not do this. It's our culture, never mind the law.

So... a person transgressed against the little expedients that most take for granted, huh? That doesn't sound anything like what an artist would do.
posted by mr. digits at 7:52 AM on May 18, 2013


So... a person transgressed against the little expedients that most take for granted, huh? That doesn't sound anything like what an artist would do.

Yeah, pushing boundaries of accepted behavior is a common characteristic of an artist, but in the end the art has to justify the breach by giving back something of value to society. If the art fails to provide anything but calculated controversy and junky art, the work and the artist are quickly forgotten.
posted by snaparapans at 7:57 AM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


And to make this argument seem anything more than scripted, the artistic transgression has to be meaningful. It has to say and do something important. This transgression here says "I see these people as performing for me on the stage of their own lives." I don't think this even pushes boundaries in an interesting way, just a self-entitled and invasive way.
posted by third rail at 8:01 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


I just remembered that at Coney Island back in the day, there was this place where when women walked over it, jets of air blew up their skirts. Men were sold tickets so that they go down there and look at ladies bloomers.

It was closed because nobody appreciated its great artistic value, or maybe for some other reason.
posted by angrycat at 8:04 AM on May 18, 2013 [3 favorites]


Quality is the sine qua non, of course, but it appears to me that the grounds of many objections may be that people (spitbull in particular) are offended by the act of transgression itself.
posted by mr. digits at 8:11 AM on May 18, 2013


There isn't a single, monolithic "act of transgression" to be supported in the world by artists and progressives. Even if you do find this "transgressive" (which I don't, I think it's just an intensification of the status quo, but that's another story). Blanketly supporting "the act of transgression" without qualifying what that is could equally be used by, say, BP in defense of transgressing the expectations of clean water.
posted by third rail at 8:16 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


Quality is in the eye of the beholder. There is no objective standard for a "quality" artistic photograph. Therefore it cannot be the "sine qua non" standard according to which the ethics of a photograph's acquisition is judged. That needs to be custom and the law.

I think these photos are of average quality as art. But it doesn't matter to my opinion if they are great or shit or in between. I also am not saying he broke the law, although he may have.

I'm just saying he's an asshole and when bad things happen to assholes I don't get upset. So f something bad happened to him as a result of being an asshole, I'm cool with it.

Some say Wagner wrote great operas too, although I wouldn't know.
posted by spitbull at 8:17 AM on May 18, 2013


Also I don't think expecting not to be photographed surreptitiously from outside when at home is a "little expedience" New Yorkers "take for granted."

This city is hardly hostile to transgressive artists or their art. This guy just took a piss in the pool and told us it was raining.

If it was your home life he "transgressed" I can almost bet you'd feel differently.
posted by spitbull at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


i would be willing to be okay with someone taking a naked picture of me and not getting eaten by rats

i mean, yeah, gross, but eaten by rats

maybe they could just get bit a couple of times by like one rat, at most? how are we gonna have any kind of a punishment gradient if the first thing is eaten by rats
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:21 AM on May 18, 2013 [6 favorites]


I'm kidding about the rats. Sort of. The H in Jesus H. Fucking Christ stands for "hyperbole." You may prefer the phrase "modest proposal."
posted by spitbull at 8:24 AM on May 18, 2013


i don't think i've ever been angry enough at someone to fantasize about them being eaten by rats

maybe im just really laid back
posted by This, of course, alludes to you at 8:26 AM on May 18, 2013


Why would it be? I mean, without arguing that it's not creepy — it's obviously creepy — the general principle seems clear that everything photographed is in clear view of the public. People who don't want to be seen doing something shouldn't do it in front of a huge unobstructed street-facing window in a densely populated city. It's creepy because it transgresses common etiquette (we pretend we can't see into our neighbors' windows) and possibly ethics (we shouldn't be voyeurs on other people's private lives), but I don't see why it should be illegal on the face of it.
By this logic, it would be perfectly legal to follow women around the streets of New York taking pictures of them without their permission. If they didn't want to be photographed, why are they walking around in public, in a densely populated city?

Sorry I'm late to the outrage party.
posted by deathpanels at 8:44 AM on May 18, 2013


But aren't these women already being photographed all over the city, considering the number of security cameras in place? And aren't the number of cameras rising continuously?

I'm asking this out of simple ignorance; I'm under the impression that urban areas in America may be approaching (or at least, given time, will be approaching) the camera-density of London.
posted by mr. digits at 8:53 AM on May 18, 2013


I'm asking this out of simple ignorance; I'm under the impression that urban areas in America may be approaching (or at least, given time, will be approaching) the camera-density of London

No, New York is not the CCTV Orwellian surveillance state London has become.
posted by Falconetti at 9:11 AM on May 18, 2013 [1 favorite]


The city’s security “Ring of Steel’’ must be widened, NYPD Commissioner Ray Kelly said yesterday.

Touring the Police Department’s Lower Manhattan Security Initiative — a center where scores of workers scour constant images from 4,000 cameras around town — Kelly said he wants to “increase significantly’’ the amount of surveillance-video equipment feeding into the site.

“We have roughly 4,000 cameras that are monitored in this center,’’ he said, referring to a surveillance system that also includes images from private security cameras.
yeah, not as many as London.. but still they want more, and there is little data to suggest that more cameras mean less crime or more cases solved.
posted by snaparapans at 9:33 AM on May 18, 2013


"Awl this tawk a prahvasee is givin' Miss Lulubelle the vapahs!"
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:37 AM on May 18, 2013


[Y]eah, not as many as London.. but still they want more, and there is little data to suggest that more cameras mean less crime or more cases solved.

A group-randomized trial, perhaps?
posted by Mental Wimp at 9:39 AM on May 18, 2013


By this logic, it would be perfectly legal to follow women around the streets of New York taking pictures of them without their permission. If they didn't want to be photographed, why are they walking around in public, in a densely populated city?

The following might be more of a legal issue than the photography.
posted by gjc at 10:17 AM on May 18, 2013


Also I don't think expecting not to be photographed surreptitiously from outside when at home is a "little expedience [sic] New Yorkers "take for granted." ...
If it was your home life he "transgressed" I can almost bet you'd feel differently.

It appears that I was not communicating clearly, spitbull, so I'm going to wheel it back around.

The expedient that I was referring to is the stereotypical New Yorker's assumption that others will ignore what they are doing in plain sight. If assuming that all others will courteously ignore what one is up to does not qualify as a belief characterized by what is governed by self-interest is not an expedient, I don't know what is.

My assertion is this: by photographing people doing banal things through their windows, Svenson transgressed against this expedient. Was he successful in doing so? Well, people certainly seem to have been upset by his project.

When I sarcastically noted that "that doesn't sound anything like what an artist would do," I was alluding to the idea that modern art is oft characterized by its transgressions against popular conceptions of what constitutes art; Peter Gay published a pretty good survey of this in Modernism: The Lure of Heresy.

And would I be upset if Svenson were to photograph me in my home? Well, I close my blinds when I'm doing something that I want to remain private, and he didn't photograph anything that anyone had put much work into obscuring, judging by the provided links.
posted by mr. digits at 12:49 PM on May 18, 2013


Was he successful in doing so? Well, people certainly seem to have been upset by his project.

I can successfully upset people by insulting them. That doesn't make it art. It makes it assholery, and pretending otherwise is absurd.

Also, the photographs aren't particularly that great.
posted by windykites at 1:04 PM on May 18, 2013 [2 favorites]


Sure -- but your or my assessment of Svenson's photography does not (or not ought) mean anything to him, and, again, "the lure of heresy" has been a major vein in the arts of Western world for the past 150 years or so.
posted by mr. digits at 1:12 PM on May 18, 2013


Also, the photographs aren't particularly that great.

Transgression aside, I think they're lovely.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 1:24 PM on May 18, 2013 [4 favorites]


One of my friends was given, in college, an assignment that involved eavesdropping on a conversation. This reminds me of that.
posted by bq at 6:43 PM on May 19, 2013


Bunny, what is it about the photographs that makes them appealing to you?
posted by windykites at 5:09 AM on May 20, 2013


They are all very carefully composed, the framing from the window sort of internally divides each picture into multiple panels. It's like looking at a photo through a Mondrian filter.

Also, the woman with the towel on her head with her back to the window looks to me like it is purposefully mirroring Girl with a Pearl Earring, though that could be accidental.

The fact that each one is so carefully selected just makes it more creepy though, because the artist obviously spent untold amounts of time taking hundreds of shots that didn't make the cut. Whatever product we see represents thousands of pictures that we don't.
posted by Think_Long at 7:53 AM on May 20, 2013 [4 favorites]


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