For most of us, there is a distinction between public and private places. Our homes, for instance, are private places we like to think safe from prying eyes. But while we are out for dinner, at the movies, riding the bus, or elsewhere in public we understand that people may be looking our way.
Of course, sometimes we have our blinds open and our lights on, and we know that people outside our homes may be able to see in. But what if that person had a camera? What if they were hiding in the shadows, snapping images of us while we went on with our lives. And then, what if those photos were put up for display and sale in a gallery?
For many, that would feel like a violation of privacy, an intrusion into some the most intimate moments of our lives. Whether it’s right or wrong depends on who is being asked, but many would feel uncomfortable with the idea of images of them going up for sale without prior consent.
That’s the wrath that artist Arne Svenson is now facing. Svenson recently inherited a telephoto lens from a friend who passed away, and from his second-story apartment window, he’s been snapping shots of neighbors through the window. Now his exhibition, “The Neighbors,” is on display at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea, photos on sale for up to $7,500 apiece.
When showing, the faces of said neighbors are obscured. One photo shows a woman bent over, picking something up from the ground, posterior fully facing the window. In another, a couple wearing bathrobes touch feet under the table. Another shot captures a man on his side, mid-nap.
“I don’t feel it’s a violation in a legal sense but in a New York, personal sense there was a line crossed,” said Michael Sylvester, a resident in of the neighboring building. “I think there’s an understanding that when you live here with glass windows, there will be straying eyes but it feels different with someone who has a camera,” he added.
For his part, Svenson doesn’t believe he is violating any moral code. “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,” he said. “The Neighbors don’t know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs.”