Following a decision by New York Supreme Court judge Eileen Rakower this month, you may want to consider drawing the blinds on your home windows.
Rakower decided Aug. 1 in favor of New York-based photographer Arne Svenson, whose recent exhibition “The Neighbors,” at New York’s Julie Saul Gallery, caused controversy among his unwitting subjects. From his Tribeca apartment, he had photographed them in their homes through their windows without their knowledge, using a telephoto lens. The project took 18 months to complete.
Though the photographs rarely feature a face or any other distinguishing characteristic, Martha and Matthew Foster sued him for violating their privacy. In her decision, the judge wrote that the family’s right to privacy “yields to an artist’s protections under the First Amendment in the circumstances presented here.”
The artist discussed his reaction to the decision, and its effects on his life, with A.i.A. via e-mail this week.
BOUCHER What was your reaction to the judge’s decision? Was there anything about the opinion itself that troubled you?
SVENSON The decision rendered by Judge Rakower was deeply gratifying as it reinforces not only my First Amendment rights to pursue my work and sell prints, but also the rights of all artists. In particular it clarifies that photography is an expressive art form entitled to First Amendment protection, alongside other forms of art. The decision allows me to continue to exhibit and disseminate the work, thereby keeping the integrity of the “Neighbors” project intact.
BOUCHER What effect has the controversy over the photographs had on your life among your neighbors? Have you been the subject of any personal retaliation?
SVENSON I do not have any direct contact with the subjects of the “Neighbors” photographs. I can say that neighbors in my building, and those surrounding me, have been extremely supportive. I hope that the neighbors see the beauty and sensitivity in my treatment of the subjects that was intended in the work.
BOUCHER Do you keep your curtains closed at all times these days?
SVENSON I rarely, if ever, close my curtains.
PHOTO: Arne Svenson, Neighbors #28, 2012, pigment print, 45 by 30 inches, edition of five. Courtesy Julie Saul Gallery, New York.