Arne Svenson: Is This Camera-Toting New Yorker a Progressive Artist Or a Peeping Tom?

Where does my right to look end, and your right to privacy begin? Is it at your window, or is it behind closed drapes?

This is the question being asked by certain New York high rise residents about a peeping Tom of a photographer, Arne Svenson, whose exhibit at a Manhattan gallery features photos taken from afar but involving some very up-close and personal subject matter.

These pictures, taken from Svenson’s apartment, feature anonymous shots of neighboring apartments and their inhabitants.  These inhabitants are up in arms about the invasion of their privacy. Svenson's argument is that they cannot be identified from the photos, so no invasion took place.

Further supplementing his argument is the thought that if you do not wish people to look in your windows, you may wish to invest in some curtains.

However, wouldn't that make people who have paid exorbitant amounts of money for their view of the city almost prisoners in their own homes? The Zinc Building, where floor space goes for almost $2500 a square foot, is made entirely of glass.  A cube of clear glass in TriBeCa, a perfect place for wielding a telephoto lens.

And here's where we get into the legal part of the argument. An ethical photographer will get signed releases from everyone he shoots indicating that they are over 18, and that they consent to have their image used for public purposes such as hanging in a gallery, being sold to strangers, or being used for publicity.

And yet … there's nothing illegal about Svenson’s take on a photographic shoot. (Caveat: I am not a lawyer, but my father is a professional photographer and he and I have researched these laws together.) There is no clear expectation of privacy inherent in a glass window. If he were entering their homes, or inviting them into his, and photographing them without their knowledge, that would be different. But there's no law that says he has to inform anyone of what he does when he is on his own property, and he is legally allowed to photograph whatever he can see from it. 

Now that we've dealt with that, let's move on to the artwork itself. As the child of a photographer, and one who deals with pretty controversial subjects, I can authoritatively say that Svenson's pictures are not creative, artistic, or even that edgy. He's merely taken being a peeping Tom to a new level, making a living off of doing what many creeps get arrested for on a daily basis. Were he targeting any one neighbor in particular, it would be harassment, but instead he's selling these photographs for $7500 a pop. (Pause while the author takes a moment to shudder in horror for all the people violated so that this man can sell bad artwork.)

Is it a violation if the person can't be identified? Yes. It is.  nfortunately, not a thing can be done about it, except for the public to not go to his show.  And if you believe that'll happen, I've got a beautiful apartment in TriBeCa to sell you, going cheap at $2500 a square foot …

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Rebecca Gibson

Rebecca Gibson is graduating from Brandeis University with an MA in Women's and Gender Studies and Anthropology. Her major interests include LGBTQ rights, Victorian corsetry, osteology, archaeology, and marriage equality. She has taught, edited, and written for various university publications.

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