Residents of Tribeca, New York are these days being a little more careful with what they do around their windows when the shades are not drawn, following a Greenwich Street photographers exhibition of images taken of his neighbors without their knowledge. Arne Svenson's neighbors call him a peeping tom while the photographer instead refers to himself as a form of birdwatcher chronicling modern life in New York. Now the New York Supreme Court has ruled Svenson's artistic freedom to use his 500mm telephoto lens is more important than the rights of parents to protect their children from the prying eyes of passers by.
Problems began in Tribeca when the parents of two children spotted their kids in an exhibition of Svenson's photography in the Julie Saul Gallery and demanded the photo's be removed from exhibition and sale for around $10,000 each. Upon investigating the subjects of The Neighbors exhibition were found to be unsuspecting members of the Tribeca community photographed in various positions that hid the identity of the subject.
Svenson isn't the first to spy on his subjects as they go about their everyday lives, a British arts project in 1937 used spying techniques like eavesdropping and hidden photography to record everyday life before World War II when there was just no way to even escape from the gaze of big brother as thousands with an emergency passport tried to escape from Europe. How interesting the lives of many of the subjects are is open to debate with one of The Neighbors images showing the back of a man sleeping and a second depicting a dog staring out of an apartment window. In the modern world can we really be annoyed with being photographed unknowingly with security cameras on most streets and the NSA monitoring every phone call made and Internet site visited.
Much of the fuss about the Svenson images revolves around the depiction of children without the consent of the parents or a responsible adult. Being photographed without our knowledge is definitely creepy and in the case of children just plain weird, but with a court ruling stating artists have the right to photograph people in their homes without consent make sure you draw the blinds before getting undressed.