The photographer Arne Svenson has an amazing series of photographs. What he has done is photographed his neighbors in the building opposite from where he lives in New York. Using a 500mm lens he peered through the glass-faced building and took some amazing shots.
The result is a series of images called The Neighbors. They are very personal images into peoples private lives but – from what I’ve seen online – none of the images clearly identify anyone. On the artist’s site this is how the photographs are explained:
The grid structure of the windows frame the quotidian activities of the neighbors, forming images which are puzzling, endearing, theatrical and often seem to mimic art history, from Delacroix to Vermeer. The Neighbors is social documentation in a very rarified environment. The large color prints have been cropped to various orientations and sizes to condense and focus the action.
The Guardian has a quote from Svenson about his work:
“I don’t photograph anything salacious or demeaning,” is Svenson’s stock retort when pressed on his work’s morality. “I am not photographing the residents as specific, identifiable individuals, but as representations of humankind.”
Despite this, two neighbors sued Svenson after having spotting their children among the subjects. Yet a court ruled this month that Svenson’s actions were defensible under the First Amendment’s guarantee of free speech, and that such art needs no consent to be made or sold.
The interesting thing is that Svenson seems to express a clear ethical boundary. He is taking photographs of people, without their consent, inside their homes and making them public. And yet he does draw the line at making individuals identifiable.