New Yorkers in glass houses shouldn’t be surprised they were photographed | Jill Filipovic
please note this post is not by Jay Clapp Photography but from the photography news at the guardian for your viewing pleasure please feel free to use the share buttons at the bottom.
Important questions about privacy and class have come from an artist’s photos of unwitting New Yorkers in their apartments
Ask five people who have been in New York City for more than a decade what makes someone a “real” New Yorker and you’ll get five different answers: if you’re born here; seven years in the city; 10 years; when you’re no longer fazed by celebrity sightings; when a bagel guy knows how you like your coffee and uses the perfect amount of cream cheese. My opinion? You become a real New Yorker around the third time you cry on the subway.
A city like New York blurs the line between public and private like almost nowhere else in the world. Our abodes are often so small, and our time outside of them so large, that much of what would be alarming on the streets of Peoria, Illinois is unremarkable here. I once saw a man defecate in a public park, and I didn’t blink. If you live here long enough, you adjust and do things that in an earlier life you’d never consider, like slam your hand on the hood of a cab that almost hit you, body-check a slow-moving tourist, or stroll naked through your apartment – even though you know half a dozen units across the street can see into your windows.
Because we do so much in public, there are particular lines of privacy that simply aren’t crossed. When someone is bawling their eyes out on the train, you look away. When you’re in line for a morning bagel, you rarely start an extended chat with the person in front of you. And when you look across the way and see your neighbor walking around in her robe, you don’t take a photo.
Except that’s exactly what artist Arne Svenson did: He photographed his neighbors going about their apartments. Everything he photographed was visible from his own home, where he looked into the floor-to-ceiling windows of a luxury building across the street. No one in the photos is easily identifiable. And they’re undeniably compelling, fascinating images.
But some of Svenson’s neighbors are put off, feeling their privacy has been invaded. I’m not sure they’re wrong.
“I don’t feel it’s a violation in a legal sense, but in a New York, personal sense there was a line crossed,” Michelle Sylvester, a resident, told the AP.
“I think there’s an understanding that when you live here with glass windows, there will be straying eyes but it feels different with someone who has a camera.”
Though we may literally live stacked on top of one and other, making privacy may be an illusion, that facade of privacy keeps us sane. It’s one thing to accept the fact that your neighbor might catch a glimpse of you getting ready for work; it’s another to live understanding that you may be covertly photographed, and your image sold for thousands of dollars out of a Chelsea gallery.
And yet that is a truth about living in New York: you may be covertly photographed, and your image may be sold for thousands of dollars out of a gallery. That is also the power of Svenson’s art: it challenges the artificial lines we draw around the public and the private, especially in a place where true privacy is a luxury. It also shines a light on the fact that for the many in this city who live in luxury, part of the appeal is in its display.
The very homes Svenson photographs offer only a transparent line between private abode and public display – they’re showcase homes, with walls made of glass that are meant to let the casual observer see in as much as they allow the residents to see out. Their windows are frames for their interior; residents know people can see in, and furniture and art are positioned accordingly. The home is itself a piece of art, designed and owned by the person living in it. When Svenson shifts that ownership – complete with human being inside – into a piece of art, it’s uncomfortable for the person who was previously creator of the space. Now they’re just an object in a frame, like the chair they carefully selected for display.
That his photos depict the rich inside glass homes – designed to be envied – is partially why, I suspect, it’s easier to see Svenson’s photos as art rather than violations. That he used a telephoto lens makes the photographs more offensive, but he wasn’t peering into anything that the residents were trying to hide – as noted, part of the appeal of the real estate he photographed is its exhibition architecture.
If Svenson had photographed into the small windows of a building of lower-income residents, the photographs would appear more exploitative and voyeuristic than transgressive. At the same time, there’s something discomforting about saying that a private citizen should have fewer windows and higher walls, or more guarded with their actions at home, if they don’t want to be the subject of a stranger’s art. That’s a tall order no matter where you live.
The privacy issues raised by these photographs are perhaps easier to assess than in other circumstances, since Svenson’s art is just that – art. But these photos raise the question of how we might react if the photography weren’t for artistic expression (and artistic profit) but for personal gratification, or for more crass, commercial ends. There’s a line between what Svenson has done and the paparazzi selling celebrity photos to tabloids, for instance, or predators to porn websites.
While a photo of a woman bent over wearing a robe is art in Svenson’s renderings, add a few more inches of skin and it could easily be erotica or pornography in another’s. Is the violation worse if the image is intended to sexually titillate? Is it better if the photos never see the light of day but are used for personal enjoyment by a peeping tom? Or is the violation in the photo-taking itself?
New technologies and residential patterns continue to shift our privacy norms, and our laws with them. As a general rule, we don’t find it particularly odious to photograph people in public – take the iconic V-J Day kiss in Times Square photo. But taking a photo up a woman’s skirt, even if she’s wearing that skirt in a public place, typically elicits rightful condemnation. We draw a line around spaces where we feel there’s a reasonable expectation of privacy – whether inside our homes or the private parts of our bodies.
Svenson’s art challenges that distinction, and it does so in a city where the public/private divide is already incredibly blurry. It’s uncomfortable art. It relies on methods that many people believe should be illegal. It puts pressure on our assumptions about privacy, our biases about class, and the lives that invite peering versus those we simply peer into.
It’s very good art.
via Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk http://www.guardian.co.uk/commentisfree/2013/may/22/new-york-photos-through-windows-art-privacy Jill Filipovic Thanks for reading Jay
Posted on May 22, 2013, in Photography News and tagged Art and design: Photography | guardian.co.uk, arts, guardian, IFTTT, info, information, Jill Filipovic, journal, news, newspaper, photo, photography. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.