May 20, 2013

People Who Live in Glass Boxes: The Arne Svenson Tribeca Telephoto Controversy


Svenson Tribeca 2

So WPIX is calling Arne Svenson “the peeping Tom artist photographing neighbors”? That’s what you get, I guess, for surreptitiously photographing peeps in a Tribeca luxury apartment building across the way, then turning around and selling those prints (to the equally well-heeled) as voyeuristic fantasies in an exhibition at an exclusive Chelsea gallery.

Clearly, the hostility directed at Svenson by his unwitting subjects is a class issue. This would be clear had Svenson been shooting through the windows of a tenement, or even a building full of middle-class folk … though, try finding such a swank building in Manhattan occupied by the middle class! And then, how is it Svenson didn’t know that, in a city build on wealth and status, money — floating glass boxes or not — also buys you transparency? And how dare Mr. Svenson presume to gaze on his economic superiors unawares – especially when they might be picking their noses? Privacy might be something bestowed on all Americans by the Constitution as a legal right, but it — like much else — goes doubly for the rich.

And then, I’m also wondering how much the offense was compounded by Svenson framing one of these sky box residents as if down on her knees cleaning the floor in her lovely skirt? (Looking at the photo, by the way, that’s not what it looks like she’s doing. It’s not surprising the media would suggest such a reading, however, to stoke the  degradation — far worse, of course, than napping in the afternoon while all the wage slaves are toiling away out there.

Svenson Tribeca 3

At the same time — not just based on the selection of images published at PetaPixel, the NY Post and the Daily Mail, but the images in the exhibition — it seems the brouhaha has been horribly overblown. Frankly, how scandalous is the back of somebody sleeping, or how pervish, even, is the back of a teen sitting in a chair? I mean, talk about pulling your punches.

(photos: Arne Svenson/Julie Saul Gallery)

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Michael Shaw
See other posts by Michael here.

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