The quickest way to lose any social argument is to hide behind claiming the wellbeing of your children is at risk while not standing in front of them and offering them direct protection. If you’re truly concerned about the welfare of your offspring, instantly act on their behalf, and don’t slog into the courts to beg a remedy to a simple matter of privacy that could be solved simply by drawing the curtains.
There’s an old saying in the Deaf Community when it comes to watching other people’s Sign Language conversations from across the room — “eyes for for?” — meaning “my eyes are for watching, and if you don’t want to be watched, then move out of my line of sight. Make your own privacy.”
Today, we could say the same thing about a camera in situ — “photos for for?”
There’s a big hoo-hah here in New York City over the right of a family to demand privacy in their floor-to-ceiling windowed apartment — even though they leave the curtains open — so anyone, and everyone, can see directly into their living space.
One neighbor, Arne Svenson, found the patterns of the family’s windows intriguing and took a series of images of them as part of his “The Neighbors” photography series. Here’s an example from his fascinating collection:
Here’s how the project is described:
With Arne Svenson’s new series, Neighbors, he has turned outward from his usual studio based practice to study the daily activities of his downtown Manhattan neighbors as seen through his windows into theirs. Svenson has always combined a highly developed aesthetic sense viewed from the perspective of social anthropology in his eclectic projects with subjects ranging from prisoners to sock monkeys. His projects are almost always instigated by an external or random experience which brings new objects or equipment into his life- in this case he inherited a bird watching telephoto lens from a friend.
The grid structure of the windows frame the quotidian activities of the neighbors, forming images which are puzzling, endearing, theatrical and often seem to mimic art history, from Delacroix to Vermeer. The Neighbors is social documentation in a very rarified environment. The large color prints have been cropped to various orientations and sizes to condense and focus the action.
The Neighbors is wildly wonderful, but one family didn’t think so — and they took Arne to court to get their privacy back by taking back the photos they did not take.
In an amazing decision, the judge stood behind Arne’s True Art — and not the false privacy concerns of the family in question:
Manhattan Supreme Court Justice Eileen Rakower ruled Thursday that the right of Arne Svenson to take photos without permission of Martha and Matthew Foster and their children and exhibit them trumps the family’s right to privacy in their home, which has floor-to-ceiling windows.
Rakower said she did not believe the case violated state civil rights law, which makes it a misdemeanor to take an unauthorized photo for advertising or trade purposes.
“Art is considered free speech and is therefore protected by the First Amendment,” Rakower wrote. She said it was within Svenson’s artistic rights to promote his show by sharing some of the photos with a weekly newspaper and by offering to sell them on the Internet.
“While it makes the [Fosters] cringe to think that their private lives and images of their small children can find their way into the public forum of an art exhibition, there is no redress under the current laws of the state of New York,” Rakower wrote.
I applaud the Rakower wisdom. If the offended Foster family had any common sense, they would have pulled their curtains during the day if they wanted privacy. I’m sure Arne isn’t the only one watching them during the day.
Why the Fosters chose to involve the courts instead of just making it more difficult for any outside eye to see them is a curiosity. Do the Fosters think they are somehow special in a city of eight million people that they can command what people see and record and look at later?
Are the Fosters aware of the impending Google Glass invasion which will make us all curtains-less and freely naked against-our-will on the willful streets of New York City and elsewhere?
We have no right to privacy on the street — or on display in our floor-to-ceiling apartment windows — and we’d better get used to finding new ways to hide in plain sight if we ever hope to shy away from the Panopticonic gaze of our neighbors, friends, and enemies.