I guess this was inevitable. A New York City gallery, Julie Saul, in Chelsea, is showing pictures taken through the windows of peoples' apartments.
The photographer, Arne Svenson, recently inherited a telephoto lens from a deceased birdwatcher friend. He took pictures from his second story apartment across the street from the six-story Zinc Building located at 475 Greenwich Street in TriBeCa.
The residents of the Zinc Building are considering legal action.
Much as I make every attempt to sympathize, and side with, photographers, I think the photographer would lose that case...and I think he should. As I've always understood the law, this is the #1 no-no of shooting in public. If people don't have a reasonable "expectation of privacy" in their own homes, then they really don't have it anywhere.
This might be an interesting situation to follow.
(Thanks to Ed Kirkpatrick)
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(To see all the comments, click on the "Comments" link below.)
Featured Comments from:
Robert Hudyma: "In my hometown, photographs of strippers taking a break on the rooftop of a local tavern were published without the knowledge or consent of the individuals who were photographed. It caused quite a stir and a privacy debate at the time they were published and most of the publishers removed the images from their blogs when complaints were received. You can read about it here."
Mike replies: Some might think it's ironic that strippers of all people would complain of privacy infringements, but consider that some of the strippers in question might have been keeping their money-earning activities inside the club secret from their friends, family, co-workers at other jobs, and/or fellow students, and you can more clearly understand the violation.
robert: "I did a story recently for the New York Times called 'The Stratospherians' about living in ultra hi-rise buildings in NYC—the views were incredible. In one picture I made the family's son had a pair of binoculars and I commented on it, and the parent mentioned that almost every single apartment in the nearest tower, every one, had a telescope. 'Reasonable expectation of privacy' depends on what you consider reasonable I guess...."
Photo by Robert Wright for the New York Times
Jock Elliott: "From attorney Bert P. Krages website:
The general rule in the United States is that anyone may take photographs of whatever they want when they are in a public place or places where they have permission to take photographs. Absent a specific legal prohibition such as a statute or ordinance, you are legally entitled to take photographs. Examples of places that are traditionally considered public are streets, sidewalks, and public parks. Property owners may legally prohibit photography on their premises but have no right to prohibit others from photographing their property from other locations.
Mike replies: I presume you've quoted this in defense of the view that the photographer has the right to do what he did. However, you have missed or left out some very important exceptions, which appear in the same document just beyond the section you've quoted:
There are some exceptions to the general rule. [...] Members of the public have a very limited scope of privacy rights when they are in public places. Basically, 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.The document you linked, Bert P. Krages II's "The Photographer's Right," is something everyone who photographs in public should download, read, and keep in their camera bags.
Ctein: "I don't have feelings one way or another about this, because I don't know enough about the specifics, but I can provide some factual legal information.
"First, in the United States, the right to privacy you enjoy in your home has little or nothing to do with whether you are identifiable. It covers persons and activities and objects in your home equally well. Identifiability only enters into the issue when circumstances might otherwise not afford you that right of privacy.
"As an aside, under the law, 'identifiable' doesn't mean that everybody can identify you, it's about whether anyone can identify you from the photograph, in any way. This has been tested with case law. People's guesses here about who is and isn't identifiable don't have much bearing.
"Back to the privacy issue. The section of the California Penal Code quoted in the Comments Section is basically a Peeping Tom law, and they exist in most jurisdictions. It goes back to that reasonable expectation of privacy. The key word is 'reasonable.' It's well established under the law that you do not have a reasonable expectation of privacy around anything that can be observed from a public space without using extraordinary means. What is 'extraordinary' changes with time. Nowadays, moderate telephoto lenses and compact video recorders are quite ordinary, cause they're built into most smart phones. Nobody in a public space can expect such activities might not be recorded. Similarly, anything you're doing in front of the picture window of your house that would be observable from someone walking down the street with said phone is not something you can expect to have privacy around.
"Extraordinary means are prohibited, even by law enforcement. There's a recent Supreme Court ruling around that, relating to the use of thermal imaging to try to determine what is going on in someone's home (note: no identifiability issue involved—it was about activity and contents). They firmly established that was an extraordinary measure that people would not have a reasonable expectation of encountering, and therefore it was an invasion of privacy.
"But maybe not in the future.
"So, what's reasonable in this case? I have no idea. First thing I'd want to know was how long the telephoto lens was; I bet there's some case law around that factor. There's also the interesting question raised here of whether what you do from your lawful private space is the same as what you can do from a public space. I don't know if there's case law around that. Then there's the question of what the expectations were of people living in the apartments. Someone here pointed out lots of high-rise apartment dwellers have telescopes permanently set up by their big windows. If I were an attorney, I'd be wanting to do some discovery around that. If you know that half of your neighbors own such instruments and regularly use them to peer at other people's apartments, even if you don't do that yourself your reasonable expectation of privacy would be diminished."
Mani: "I love these photographs; for some reason they make me think of Vermeer. I also like the 'problematic' nature of the subject—the induced discomfort, the suggestion of illicit voyeurism. And the artist's (possibly fictional) allusion to a deceased bird-watching photographer, and how that puts yet another layer of meaning over the act of watching other animals (through their windows). Genius."