How Would You Feel Being Secretly Photographed in Your House For An Art Exhibit?

How Would You Feel Being Secretly Photographed in Your House For An Art Exhibit?

Residents of a luxury building in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City are quite upset over the recent news that an art exhibit will be featuring photos, shot of them, through their house windows. How would you feel if you heard a photograph of you sleeping or bending over in your house is now part of an art show and selling for thousands of dollars? Would you feel like your private space was violated? Is this even legal? Read on to learn more about the photos and the legality surrounding the whole issue.

Photographer Arne Svenson started a project called "The Neighbors" which entailed him hanging out behind the curtains of his second story building and secretly shooting photos of his neighbors across the street through their windows. The photographs, which don't show any faces, are now being sold for up to $7,500 each at the Julie Saul Gallery. The residents of the luxury penthouses heard about the display of photos and are now fuming. Some residents have pointed out that there are photos of children in the display which means Svenson could have been looking through the window for sometime with his telephoto lens invading their children's very private space.

Fstoppers Svenson Exhibit 1

Fstoppers Svenson Exhibit 2

According to the New York Post, one parent Clifford Finn said, "A grown man should not be able to photograph kids in their rooms with a telephoto lens. You can argue artistic license all you want, but that’s really the issue here. I’m sorry, but I’m really bothered by this.” The photographer Svenson is unapologetic and feels he has every right to do what he would like. In a statement about the work Svenson said, "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. 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."

Fstoppers Svenson Exhibit 3

Fstoppers Svenson Exhibit 4

Fstoppers Svenson Exhibit 5

The New York Post talked with experts in privacy law that have said because the photos do not show any full faces there is likely no misdemeanor criminal case that could be brought up against Svenson and that the residents would probably have more luck filing a civil case instead. So what do you all think about this? How would you feel if you saw a photographer across the street with his 400mm lens pointed into your window? Even though the photos he has released do not show full faces, who is to tell what other photos Svenson might have secretly snapped. Some might argue that if the residents want privacy they should close their window curtains, but I feel that we should not have to do that while in our own homes. Let me know how you feel in the comments below.

Photographs by Arne Svenson/Julie Saul Gallery

[Via PetaPixel, Via New York Post]

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Maybe it isn't illegal, but it sure is ethically dubious.

And creepy. Let's not forget creepy.

Really, who down votes that this is ethically dubious and creepy?

So interesting. This story may help people to think twice about closing their curtains in the future. I know that my neighbors got a good laugh at me wandering around my living room, oblivious to the fact that they were all watching me clean in my bra. I think he should not be able to sell their likeness with out at least including them in the profit. It really is creepy, but even if he was not photographing them, they now know that people can easily look in on them. What an interesting article Trevor!

Indeed creepy. Seems to me however that if he is not trespassing and not publishing identifiable faces, then legally he should be fine. I would hope so at least. What is legal and what is ethical are not and should not be the same thing.

Why should they not? Are all things illegal therefore not unethical?

Maybe, but not the converse.

All things unethical are not necessarily illegal.

Because if they are the same thing, then you have a state where freedoms are continually diminished. The question is who gets to choose? Not all laws are ethical, right?

Creeper. Seriously.

Arturo Mieussens's picture

It might feel rude to be photographed without your knowledge. But also, what's so precious about your "private space"? Nobody gives a crap about you or your life, you're much less important than you think. I believe all the privacy subject should deal with the security and the honor issues. If none of those is compromised, what's really the problem?.
Today we tend to believe that we own the image we project, and so we try to control everything about it. What if this guy painted what he saw through his window? what would the difference be?

"Nobody gives a crap about you or your life, you're much less important than you think." this should be repeated over and over and over to social media users...

It IS true.

Obviously someone does give "a crap about you or your life".

He is selling photos of them and their life for $7500 each.

Let's be clear here. He didn't care that THOSE SPECIFIC people did that in their lives...

It could be anyone's life. they don't have distinguishing markings, faces, special outfits etc...

As Thomas Lawn said (a post lower) they are picking their nose in traffic. The ONLY difference is they are at home. But still visible from the street/next door balcony etc...

He could sell that as "staged" and it would be just as good looking. Or he could have staged them and THEN said they were candid...

In the end no one cares. They are John and Jane smiths...

I also feel the need to say that these people are essentially picking their nose in traffic. If you live in a building like that and leave your windows open, SURPRISE! people can see you.

There is a sloping hill that unwinds straight up from my living room. At night, cars coming down the hill shine their lights into my living room. In the morning, I walk through wearing very few clothes, and sometimes take a peek at the weather. I'm aware that people can watch me do this. I'm also sure that I would be a little put off if someone took my picture while looking out the window wearing nothing but underwear. However, I would take that as a sign to either start using my blinds or buy a bathrobe, not threaten to sue someone.

If these people were so keen on keeping their space private, they would use drapes or blinds to keep people from seeing into their space.

Someone seeing me in a private space, someone photographing me in a private space, and someone essentially broadcasting and selling those images are all completely different issues. Do not confuse them as one issue.

This artist has taken a private moment he witnessed (two people— subject and witness) then documented it, and now has broadcast that moment to millions (through the internet). I may not expect my space to be entirely private, but it is reasonable to expect what happens there to not be witnessed by thousands or even millions.

JOE DDD (Daniel Dalin Drechsler)'s picture

legal or not, this guy's a douchebag.
To me he's a peeping tom using a camera.

So basically the creepster might have plenty of shots with nude people in their private space. But because it doesn't show their faces, then it's legal. That's fucked. I do think the photographer should get their consent, and even offer part of the sale. After all, if it wasn't for the people there would be no photographs. One thing's for sure, if I caught this guy in the act, especially if I had kids, he'd get a direct beatdown. It's bad enough now that Google's satellite cameras can see your backyard. Now we have local cameras snapping into our windows. Great.

If I paid Millions of dollars to live in Tribeca and some creep was taking photos of me yeah I would be pissed. He can word his creepy act how ever artistically he wants fact is its wrong.

It's irrelevant how much these people paid for their apartments. The law and ethics apply equally to everyone, regardless of wealth. Either it's legal to photograph people in their homes from the apartment across the street, or it isn't. Either it's ethical to photograph people under these circumstances, or it isn't. It would be just as wrong (or just as permissible, depending on how you look at it) if the subjects were residents of a public housing project. If anything, I feel slightly better about the photographer selling pictures of ultra-rich people and keeping the money because the subjects clearly aren't hard up for cash. It would feel extra exploitative to photograph poor people in their private space and sell those images to rich collectors for thousands of dollars without sharing the profits with the subjects.

Similar case (kinda) in Montréal,Québec that opposed a photog to a woman who was sunbathing in the nude on HER fireescape balcony which was in the alleyway.

While the court acknowledge that she was in fact in "public space", she still retains her rights to her image and since we could see her face, she won and the photog couldn't use his shot.

fairly sure this is going to be the same (or should be) since it could be ANY house and ANY person so their right to their image shouldn't be seen as violated.

But this being NYC and the states.... who knows what will happen...

While I agree that the practise is highly dubious, I have to say I am intrigued by the photos from a purely photografic perspective. They remind me of the work of the danish painter Vilhelm Hammershoi, where all the subjects are turned away from the viewer yet you feel as if you still can see their faces and feel their emotions.

Two words. Window blinds :-)

In the UK, we almost live on top of each in places so most of us have net curtains as well as normal curtains. They may not be the height in interior decoration, but they do give you privacy while allowing light in and letting you see out.

I definitely don't agree with what the photographer did, but you do have to realise that people can and will look into your home, even if they are just walking past outside. If you want to be assured privacy, close the curtains or find another way to stop people looking in.

They're call sheers in the US.

There is a difference between a neighbor or passing person seeing you on your sofa and having them take a photo and sell it.

Oh, of course. Just saying that if a person's privacy is that important to them, they need to take steps to help prevent things like this happening, even if it's still fairly rare.

The law refers to it as "reasonable expectation of privacy". Whereas you might expect someone to see you, you probably should not expect them to photograph you.

I get where you are coming from, but I don't think it is unreasonable to expect not to be photographed with a telephoto lens while napping in a sunbeam on my sofa (as can be clearly seen in these photos).

If I saw my neighbour photographing me or my family through the window, I would dress as Slanderman and follow him/her to creep them out.

YES! You can also bring random kids in and out for added impact.

So, he's a peeping tom with the excuse, "It's only art, I wasn't watching her kids undress for my own pleasure..." If I saw him pointing a lens into my kids room, his lens would meet my bat.

It may be fine for this photographer's moral and economics but truth is, he is making it worse for everybody else. Photography has been under attack for over decade. Digital put a camera in everybody's hand. I love the idea of "Unplugged" weddings. This is a good way for us photogs to defend our profession but this guy is making it much worse. I bet this guy is selfish as Hannibal Lecter.

As a community, photographers should always be against voyeurism of every kind.