Saturday, June 1, 2013
Thoughts on Privacy
Did you see the piece in The New Yorker about the photographer who made a year-and-a-half long project of pointing his camera into his neighbors' windows? Needless to say, the neighbors were not amused when they heard photos of themselves lounging around in bathrobes and eating cereal were hanging in a Chelsea gallery. The photographer was told by an attorney that "in a city where people are crammed so tightly together, there is scant presumption of privacy," according to the article. Still, the neighbors are said to be considering legal action.
Even I, with my fairly high comfort level about photographing strangers, am amazed he would try to get away with that.
When I took a photo class last year, the teacher explicitly told us not to shoot into people's windows. (I wouldn't have tried anyway, at least not with a residential window -- unless it was for a benign photo like this.) People on the street, though, are fair game, because they're in public.
Even then, I sometimes find myself debating ethics, if not legalities. For example, last week I took this photo of a kiss on Westminster Bridge. I actually took three -- one of the couple smiling at each other, one of the kiss, and one of a hug afterwards. To me, they're poignant portraits, and Robert Doisneau and Alfred Eisenstaedt made legendary pictures of public kisses -- so there's certainly precedent. Still, I debated before putting them on Flickr, and in the end I posted only one. (Why that's better, I'm not sure. It just felt better to me.)
I try to consider whether a photo is likely to make someone unhappy or uncomfortable. If I kissed someone in the street and someone else took our photo, would I care? I think I'd be flattered. I'd probably want a copy. (Unless I was kissing someone I'd rather the world not know about -- in which case, why would I be doing it in public?) But then again, I love photos. I'm a picture person.
I do agree with the New York attorney that the presumption of privacy is different in big cities, especially those with high volumes of pedestrians. In New York or London, life is lived on the street, for all to see. Taking street portraits in Tampa, my car-culture hometown, would feel different. I think people have a higher expectation of privacy in that environment, even outdoors, because they're often in their cars and there's less public interaction.
And I would never, ever shoot through anyone's windows, anywhere. Good lord.
The same New Yorker also had a knockout article about a guy in Chelsea who rented his apartment to something like 46 different people. He'd collect a deposit, put them off, make up excuses and basically prevent them from taking occupancy -- all while collecting deposits from others as well. It's such a New York story. Stuff like that could only happen in a place where there's such a premium on living space.
(Photos: Paris, on Thursday.)