NYC Tribeca Residents Enraged Over Photos They Claim Violate Their Privacy

May 16, 2013 5:03pm

Is it art or a violation of privacy?

A display of photographs by Arne Svenson at the Julie Saul gallery in New York has become a source of fury for residents in a luxury Tribeca apartment building.

Shot from a second-floor apartment across the street from the luxury residence, the photographs show neighbors living their lives in their apartments.

No faces are shown, but the residents claim they were not aware they were being watched and photographed.

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Neighbors #17, Arne Svenson, 2012, Julie Saul Gallery (Image credit: Julie Saul Gallery)

A resident who spoke to ABC News on the condition of anonymity said several rooms of his apartment were displayed  in the Julie Saul show.

“There are some [photographs] where you can’t see the face, so it’s anonymous to a degree. There’s lot of neighbors whose likenesses are visible, and some are young children. Everyone is very, very concerned.”

Another resident who has lived in the building for years told ABC News she couldn’t  believe what had happened at her building.

“It’s absurd and totally unacceptable. The idea, which I find kind of creepy, is that he didn’t just snap them, he …  watched them,” she said.

She said many of those photographed recognized rooms and seasonal items in the pictures, and believe  the photographs were taken over a long period of time.

“The entitlement that he thinks he has. … I wish I could turn it on him and go to his opening and take pictures of him,” she said.

Tribeca is known for housing many celebrities,  and one building resident told ABC News there was a reason many who recognized themselves  had  not come forward in a public way.  She declined to go into detail on any action her fellow residents  might take.

“From famous, rich, house moms, everyone, people are in unison as neighbors, and we were not in unison about what they did. You don’t have to be famous.  You should still have your privacy,” she said. “We’re behind the neighbors whatever they need.

“There were children running around in diapers. Even the people that don’t have children, how much did this guy sit and look at? Like the teddy bear on the chair picture. It’s invading their privacy, violating them. It just gives that stalking feel,” she said.

Svenson declined to comment to ABC News, and referred calls to gallery owner Julie Saul, who has represented his work for more than 20 years.  When reached by ABC News, Saul said her gallery was not seeking sensationalism and was not out to offend anyone but loved the photographs for their aesthetic.

“The whole notion of privacy is a very interesting conversation, but it’s not the thing that interested me about the show,” she told ABC News.  ”It’s the photographs universality, and [they're] very painterly,” she said.

Saul told ABC News that Svenson had sought legal counsel before displaying the photographs, and they were considered  fine,  but ABC News legal analyst Dan Abrams said  the neighbors could have grounds for  a civil case,  but the photographer could have a defense as well.

“I think that if their faces had been shown, this would be an easy civil case,” Abrams said. “The best argument is ‘I didn’t show their faces. How can you argue their privacy was violated?’  But the subjects would have a pretty good shot suing in a civil action saying that even though their faces weren’t shown, their privacy was violated by the act and the photos.”

Abrams also said that the use of  a zoom lens could make the case stronger for the plaintiffs.

“The more you zoom into someone’s home, the more you are invading their privacy. The claim could be,  ’Look, I could see you from my window,’ but when using a zoom lens, the case becomes stronger,” Abrams said.

Saul said neither she nor Svenson expected  the reaction the photographs have received from the neighbors.

“I wish they would talk about the aesthetic of the work instead of talking about his character and saying things that just aren’t true,” Saul said, adding that the work was “not hurtful.  It’s the last thing he would intend to hurt, embarrass, endanger anyone with a negative work. …  There’s universality about them that associates with other films, art, nothing that makes you wonder what the rest of their life is like.”

Saul said  had the neighbors not  drawn attention to the photographs,  no one would know who they were.

“You would never recognize these people on the street. I would venture they could not recognize themselves except for certain body parts.”

Svenson’s display runs through June 29.


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