when does surveillance art cross the line?

Hi everyone.

This article I found struck my interest because it presents a lot of different views – legal, different artists’, everyday peoples’ – views on the ethics of surveillance art, and the effect of the digital on privacy in general, and in art.

Many photographers in cities in New York, like Michael Auder, whose series of strangers through apartment windows,  I Was Looking Back To See If You Were Looking Back At Me To See Me Looking Back At You, is pictured below, have run into legal hot water over whether or not such photography is a breach of privacy and/or voyeurism.




Auder argues that his pictures never include distinguishable features of the subjects, so he shouldn’t need permission.  Interestingly, at least to me, the law usually seems to agree.  Rights to privacy in New York for example, are ruled by many statutes, and ultimately, consent is usually only required if a likeness is used for advertising or commercial purposes.  Most civil cases against artists by an unconsenting subjects usually end in favor of the artist’s integrity to use them in their work.

However, there is definitely a tension in the art world over the ethics of this, and how it has changed since the emergence of the internet, social media and so on.  As the article states,”To underscore how troubling this situation is, many artists are using tools of surveillance and loopholes in privacy laws to create works that expose just how much has been lost.”



Paolo Cirio’s series Street Ghosts from 2012 (above) did just that, using Google Maps and present photos he took to create blurred portraits of strangers.  Cirio was quoted ‘“We worry about being naked on the street, but we don’t worry about being naked on the Internet,” By the same token, he notes that people are guarded about sharing information with strangers on the sidewalk, but seem comfortable posting personal details online.’

The response to his project was varied – some people who saw themselves in it wanted to pay him for copies of the “portraits” where others were not so pleased and felt violated.


What does everyone think?  What are the appropriate boundaries between art and privacy? And do you think these have changed or should change when we live in such a digital, image-driven world ?


~ Katie L.


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