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Art or invasion of privacy? Secret snapshots anger neighbors

May 17, 2013 at 8:11 AM ET

Video: A gallery exhibit in New York City showing photographs secretly taken by artist Arne Svenson of his neighbors in their homes has many questioning whether it’s artistic or an invasion of privacy. NBC’s Mara Schiavocampo reports.

To the well-known photographer who shot them with a telephoto lens, the pictures of people going about their daily lives in the building across the street constitute art.

To the residents of a Manhattan apartment complex who now find those personal images of themselves on display and for sale at a local art gallery, it’s invasion of privacy.

Artist Arne Svenson took the pictures through the open windows of the apartment across the street in Tribeca, unbeknownst to the residents being photographed. The snapshots capture intimate moments like people putting a sleeping child to bed or taking a nap. The apartment-dwellers are outraged after seeing the photos being sold for as much as $8,000 each in an exhibit at a Chelsea gallery.

“I’m upset because a lot of children live in this building,’’ one male resident told Mara Schiavocampo on TODAY Friday. “I have children, young children, in this building.

"I'm sure there's a lot we haven't seen. I don’t know what he has on film and I think that's what everybody's big concern is: What else is there and what else is he planning on doing with them?”

Svenson argues that he has done nothing wrong, and that no faces are fully visible in the photos. He said he got the idea from bird watching, and that this is no different.

The subjects still think he crossed the line.

“I don’t feel comfortable knowing someone was pointing a camera into a place with a telephoto lens,’’ one female resident said.

The gallery describes the exhibit, called “The Neighbors,’’ as “social documentation in a very rarefied environment.”

“You can’t tell who they are, so I think it’s fine,’’ one gallery-goer from Albany said. “That’s mysterious. I love them.”

It may be harder for Svenson to get any more pictures. Since the exhibit opened, many more people on the block are keeping their curtains closed.


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