PEEPING TOM?


Almost exactly a year ago I posted a piece about a photographer who photographed passing subway trains. Great photographs in themselves but I had reservations about the morality of it.

“I have always defended the right of photographers to take photographs of whatever they choose, subject to the law and moral obligations – no child porn, for example. But I was confronted with the ethics of it when I saw a photograph on The OnlinePhotographer Blog. I followed the link (www.johnslaytor.com/commuters.html) to find and astonishing series of photographs of commuters on trains. My initial, and lasting reaction is that these are street photographs that truly qualify as art. My second was that these are among the rawest people shots I have ever seen. So many of the people look so tired, so sad, so angry, that my second thought was has anyone the moral right to strip bare the emotions of people they don’t know, or ever will know.

“Slaytor’s photographs of people gazing out of a train window showed the subjects at a moment extraordinary vulnerability … a moment when they supposed themselves to be unobserved. It seemed to me to be an almost unforgivable intrusion into a person’s life, and their privacy. None of them were newsworthy. None was a celebrity. None agreed to be photographed. Why should their inner selves be hung out to dry?

“The Online Photographer quotes John Slaytor as saying ‘I photographed commuters in trains from the outside of the train as they passed me by, approximately one and a half meters away at forty kilometers an hour. I couldn’t see the commuters and they couldn’t see me.’ “

Much more disturbing is the current debate over the images of  the occupants of an apartment block photographed from a facing building using a long lens by a person hiding in the shadows.
If I did the same thing shooting through the windows of strangers with a long lens I would, quite rightly, be labelled a Peeping Tom, whether or not I labelled my photographs “Art”.
I don’t see any difference here. If I had reservations about Slaytor’s methods I have absolutely none about Arne Svenson’s. His actions are a gross invasion of privacy.
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