Privacy, Glass Houses, and Artistic Expressions

Zinc Building New York CityArt has always been perceived as being somewhat un-definable in nature. Art can be seen in just about everything in life depending on the person. Like beauty, art is also in the eyes of the beholder.

But what happens when one person looks at something as art and but then this art is not perceived the same way by others? Well, most would say this is a personal problem and for people to not look upon art that they find offensive, right? Well, when it comes to being unknowingly photographed in your home, things tend to get ugly and some feel it is a direct invasion of privacy.

In recent news, a couple living in New York City became enraged when they learned that a photographer, a famous one at that, had been photographing them while they were going about their daily routines in their home. The photographer, Arne Svenson, a  renowned fine-art photographer from California, did not see it this way and pictures of this couple ended up in his latest series called “The Neighbors”.

Up until this point this story would seem to be an open and shut case of who is right and who is very wrong in the situation. However, the courts did not see it this way when the couple sued Arne Svenson in 2013.

Interestingly enough, it is pertinent to point that the couple lived in a glass house. They lived in a real-life, glass home located in the Zinc Building in Tribeca. The interior of the home is clearly visible not only for the couple who sued the photographer, but also for the hundreds of other people who chose to live in the same glass box-like building.

The charges that were brought up against the photographer were dismissed not based on the fact that the couple lived with seemingly little cares for privacy, but because it is not illegal to look into peoples windows in New York City. The court also found that the work was protected as “artistic expression” under the First Amendment.

This is not the first outrage to come from people who felt that their privacy was invaded in the name of art. It has been growing at a rather fast pace in recent years. Some artists and privacy advocates say this is because we are living  the “death of privacy” era. This death of privacy is strongly supported by the rapid expansion and reach of growing technologies today.

Trevor Pagien photo of NSAAnother very interesting spin on surveillance art came from photographer, Trevor Paglen, who fancied himself a conspiracy theorist in years past. The photographer said he felt mixed emotions about the Snowden leaks that rocked the world. He said he had always been interested in “watching the watchers” and wanted to add faces to the secretive nameless we only hear about in the news.

He took it upon himself to illuminate them and “spy on the spies”. Paglen’s photographs depicted the activities of two major secret intelligence agencies and the NSA. The photographer later shared these images online as part of a series in the Creative Times Reports.

Opinions on the matter of surveillance art and privacy concerns are very dependent on each persons individual feelings on the matters of privacy. Many feel there is no wrong or right when it comes to one’s personal preferences on the matter as long as no laws are broken in the name of capturing art.