Skip to main content

The "Peeping Tom" photographer vs. a subject's right to privacy

Where does a subject's right to privacy begin? A "peeping Tom" photographer/artist, Arne Svenson, in New York took photos of his unsuspecting neighbors through their windows. The photos (including those of children) are now featured in a gallery exhibit in Manhattan. Needless to say, the subjects are not pleased. According to the photographer, no invasion of privacy took place because the subjects in the photos can't be identified. I call B.S. on that. While faces may not be shown, I would bet that someone who knows some of the people in the photos could easily recognize them.

I do agree that if you want your daily activities in your home to remain private, then you should close your curtains or window blinds. However, you should also be allowed to assume that your daily activities won't end up being turned into a gallery exhibit, raking in thousands of dollars for the so-called artist. And as this article points out, people don't pay huge amounts of money to live in a city-view high-rise apartment building with all the curtains drawn.

According to attorney Bert P. Krages, II, who wrote "The Photographer's Right":

"...anyone can be photographed without their consent except when they have secluded themselves in places where they have a reasonable expectation of privacy such as dressing rooms, restrooms, medical facilities, and inside their homes." (emphasis mine) I have carried printed PDF copies of The Photographer's Right in my camera bags for years and have handed them out on a few occasions.

I'm not a lawyer, and I'm a freelance, not a professional photographer, but I do know that it's common ethical practice for photographers to obtain a subject's consent before using their image for public or commercial purposes. While Svenson may not have done anything technically illegal, he did act unethically. Maybe I'm old-fashioned.

As Rebecca Gibson states in her article about Mr. Peeping Tom Mr. Svenson:

"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." 

And that pretty much says it all....


  1. Thanks for all the great information. I've always wondered what I would say if confronted for taking someone's photo in public. Thanks so much.

  2. Carol, I don't photograph people very often (more nature and landscapes), but when I do, I generally try to be very obvious about it to hopefully avoid any confrontation. On occasion, I've asked someone if I could take their photo but they told me they would prefer I didn't. And I respect that. I try to give others the same respect that I would want for myself. Most of the time when I photograph people, I'll smile and point to my camera to put them at ease. That seems to help. More often than not, they'll shrug and say "ok."


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Paying It Forward

We all live in a world where it's easy to hide behind the relative anonymity of a computer screen and keyboard which, unfortunately, brings out the worst in some people. After reading a troll-ish response to someone in an online photography forum recently, I have a few things to say.
I think it's safe to say with 100% certainty, that there is not one professional well-known photographer who at some point didn't start from the beginning. Yes, some people may be born with a more innate talent than others, but they still have to practice their craft. Practice. Fail. Practice. Fail. Practice, practice, practice. One day the technique is perfected, and you begin to see improvement. Work hard to be the best you can be. Whatever your craft or profession. In terms of photography, not one of us picks up a camera one day and becomes a world-famous photographer the next. We all have to start somewhere: asking questions, learning from other photographers, reading books, watching videos…

Where Do You Draw the Line on Image Alteration?

This article from Digital Photography School raises a great question: Where do you draw the line on image alteration? There are many gray areas that surround this debate, and it seems fairly subjective for each photographer. Some photographers go crazy with overdone HDR processing (something that personally makes me cringe, but that's a topic for another discussion). Some photographers enhance color saturation. Some photographers crop or clone out distracting details. Obviously, photojournalists are quite different from landscape photographers, and are held to a specific code of ethics that may not apply to the rest of us. A photojournalist who digitally manipulates a photo of a scene can create an entirely different view of an event they're covering. Some interesting examples and discussion are available here.
While I have occasionally done some overdone HDR for a specific purpose, it's rare that I do that. However, one edit that I do frequently do is cloning out power lin…

6 Things I Love About Photography

I enjoy capturing something in a moment that will never be the same again. The subject may remain, but the way it looks at this particular moment, will never be exactly the same in the future. I've learned over the years that if something catches my attention, make time to take the photo then. Don't wait. I've discovered that an interesting dilapidated building may get torn down. Or access to it may change. Nature may take over, obstructing the view with weeds. An engaging bit of graffiti may be painted over.

I take joy in doing something that has been a part of my life since I was a kid.
When I was growing up, my parents had a darkroom in the basement. I spent many afternoons hanging out with my dad, talking with him and watching him develop photos. Seeing a photo magically appear on the paper after emerging from its chemical bath fascinated me. I'm very fortunate to have a close relationship with my parents and we still enjoy taking photos together - even today when w…