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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."


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