New Yorkers Upset Over Photographer’s Secret Snaps Through Their Windows


Photographer Arne Svenson lives on the second floor of an apartment building in the Tribeca neighborhood of New York City. For his project “The Neighbors,” he pointed his camera at a luxury apartment building across the street and secretly photographed its inhabitants through open windows.

Those photographs are now being sold for thousands of dollars at a gallery in NYC, but it turns out the subjects aren’t very happy with having their images stealthily snapped and sold.

The New York Post reports that a number of the residents are “furious” over Svenson’s new photo exhibit at the Julie Saul Gallery, and the fact that the images show private moments that include cleaning (while bent over), taking naps, and kids resting with teddy bears:




Clifford Finn, one of the residents of the luxury apartment (where penthouses cost upwards of $6 million), is quoted by the paper as saying, “A grown man should not be able to photograph kids in their rooms with a telephoto lens. You can argue artistic license all you want, but that’s really the issue here. I’m sorry, but I’m really bothered by this.”

Other residents in the building are considering legal action against the photographer.

In a statement for the project, the 60-year-old Svenson says his work is similar to birdwatching:

For my subjects there is no question of privacy; they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high. The Neighbors don’t know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs. I am not unlike the birder, quietly waiting for hours, watching for the flutter of a hand or the movement of a curtain as an indication that there is life within.

According to experts contacted by the NYPost, there is likely no misdemeanor criminal case against Svenson due to the fact that faces in his photos “aren’t fully visible”.

Thanks for sending in the tip, Bruce!

Image credits: Photographs by Arne Svenson/Julie Saul Gallery

  • bob cooley

    Leaving your car unlocked doesn’t make it legal for someone else to steal it.

  • Vin Weathermon

    The only reason these are worth “thousands” is because of the controversial nature of peeping (even though I do not believe it is) and all the buzz we have created talking about them. Heck, if he was arrested the images would probably double in value. These people are not recognizable, and their windows are wide open and accessible to anyone in another building, so I don’t think this is illegal. I agree, the photos themselves are pretty boring, and anyone could have taken them. Meh.,

  • bob cooley

    @harumph:disqus is correct about the legality around no need for the model release in these conditions, and also agree about the ethics of the situation.

  • harumph

    Obviously. I think you must have misunderstood my point.

  • bob cooley

    Well, mostly – also for magazine and other publication work that isn’t journalistic (fashion images, etc.)

  • harumph

    Fashion falls under commercial work. I see you agreed with my exact same statement above, so I’m not sure why you’re parsing it now.

  • bob cooley

    it’s a nuance, but ‘commercial’ and ‘commercial advertising’ are not the same. Fashion in magazines isn’t always advertising, and it’s only one example: calendars, posters, etc. are all commercial publication work (and require a release) but are not necessarily advertising.

  • Bryan Broyles

    What is ridiculous is claiming that making a choice to not close your curtains, and to expose yourself to the view of others has no impact on your expectation of privacy. The occupants’ rights are very much defined by their own actions in cases like this. If it could only be seen by the use of a long telephoto lens, there is SOME case law that would permit you to argue that you had an expectation of privacy. And a good body that stands for the contrary.

  • Bryan Broyles

    Citation, please?

  • Choen Lee

    Dont want people to see you? Put that curtain to good use then.

  • Tim Stanbrook

    At a time when all photographers seem to be on the losing side of a PR battle this sort of thing is really not helpful. What’s odd in this instance is that with a bit of research the photographer could presumably have worked out the mailing addresses of the relevant apartments and sought agreement by post. Was he just too lazy or did he anticipate that approval would not have been granted? Either reason seems a pretty good argument not to publish.

  • Grokular

    Tell me where you live, I’ll hang out across the street and take some snaps of you enjoying the view.

  • Phli

    You seem to have come away with the exact opposite of what was written there. Maybe you were trying to reply to another comment?

  • SteveDK

    Maybe because prints are huge, the gallery does a big markup, and it’s NYC?

  • SteveDK

    Who said life is fair? It’s not, quintuple so for the art market. See Nussenzweig v. diCorcia. Mr. Nussenzweig thought Mr. diCorcia should not be able to take his picture on the street at night with a flash and sell a giant print of it for tens of thousands of dollars. The court ruled for the photographer.

  • SteveDK

    People have raised a similar objection to being photographed in truly public places such as the street. But as an ex-policeman, you know that people have a First Amendment right to capture images of almost anything visible from a public place or a place where you have a right to be, such as your apartment. In Massachusetts, the SJC has specifically said photography is an art-form that is protected by free speech under the US and Massachusetts Constitutions. Such photos or recordings are the private property of the photographer. However, photographers don’t have a right to misuse such images without permission, such as using them to promote a commercial product, to cast an identifiable person in a false light, or other torts, depending on the jurisdiction. Exhibiting photographs is not a commercial use.

  • SteveDK

    Photography of things on view to the public, or from your own home’s windows, is a First Amendment protected artistic activity. It is not at all like theft.

  • SteveDK

    This sounds like what galleries expect in an artist’s statement. The good ones are interesting, but the bad are pretentious drivel.

  • SteveDK

    No he’s photographing out his own window, from a place he has every right to be and to make art.

  • Larry Roberg

    Great. I’m always looking for some nice environmental portrait shots. Just be careful. Across the street doesn’t have sidewalks and you would probably have to stand in the street to avoid trespassing on my neighbors property.

  • Mike

    IMO, liberalists are very often douches who only want a world lived their own way, whilst people who just want privacy are made to live with virtually with veils. An example: if I fall asleep in a particularly amusing way in a public place and someone takes my picture and I become a meme and am made fun of and teased in my life, the liberalist says that it was my fault for displaying in a public place. Well no, I’d counter and say its the other person’s fault for being a selfish asshole and claiming all sorts of amendments or rights to demand that they can go ahead an make fun of people and make other people’s life miserable. It’s strange that a person who only wants a little privacy wants it for themselves, but an over zealous liberalist demands the right to stick their noses anywhere and everywhere.

  • E

    Also known as a “Peeping Tom”, it is still not illegal. It is one’s own fault for leaving their window’s open. It is creepy, but unfortunately not a crime.

  • Sinister Dexter

    buy some curtains you rich morons

  • JS

    That’s not art if you have to resort to peeking in someone’s home with a camera, especially on the 2nd floor! You people have all gone crazy. What is this country and world becoming? You want art, go outside and snap away at people walking around, go to the public park, he is nothing but a damn peeping tom.

  • JS

    Its tgeir choice to put curtains or not. They didnt expect that being on the 2nd floor and in their private space that some airhead, washed up, wannabe would invade their private space with his long lens and snapping away so he could claim art and to make money. What is this world becoming that we can’t enjoy the peace and privacy of our own space? Damn shame!!!!!

  • SteveDK

    If someone has artistic intent then they make art. Of course not everyone will like it. You are free to dislike it, to call it bad art, and disapprove of the methods used to create it, but it is still art.

    People who disagree with you are no crazier than you. Only the closed mind is certain.

  • SteveDK

    Laws vary between jurisdictions. This may be illegal in some states but legal in others under statute. Those that make it illegal may or may not be constitutional, it would be for the courts to decide. And then there is civil law, which would make it risky for photographers to use recognizable photos of people for commercial purposes (advertising) or to cast someone in a false light (to libel someone with an image that falsely makes them look up to no good ). It’s complicated and a lawyer should be consulted before publishing such images.

  • Susan

    Life in New York requires many tiny adjustments to the social contract. We live in close quarters, and we don’t want to be shrouded in darkness in order to maintain privacy. We avert our eyes to allow others to have the basic freedoms of light and privacy. This photographer broke that contract and has made others now unable to live freely in their own homes. I don’t want to be his “bird.” Nor do I want my children to be photographed sleeping. I don’t think anyone would want to be an unwilling subject of someone’s telephoto lens, not matter how artful the result.

  • tomhenning

    From the comments here, it’s clear that not many commenters here on PetaPixel are artists. Even if you don’t personally like the look of the images, you have to admit that the photographs are sensitive, well-crafted images that are sympathetic to their subjects. The artist’s intent was clearly to make a statement about daily domestic life in New York City. There’s nothing sensationalistic, exploitative, intrusive, or “creepy” about these images. Nor, as most of the hasty commenters are learning, is there anything illegal about how they were gathered.

  • Gregg

    How could you point out the creepyness of the situation and then zoom your own video camera up into the same windows that you are claiming are sacred ? Seriously ?!?! Pot calling the kettle black…