Sacrifice Privacy for Art

For two years Philip-Lorca diCorcia set up his camera in Times Square and took pictures of all the passersby. The idea was to capture the secret world of each person, to make people pay attention to the stranger they pass on the street. The show is up in Chelsea’s Pace/MacGill Gallery. But not everyone wants their secrets revealed. When the unknowing subjects of the project were became public in the exhibition catalog, one was not very happy. Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew, sued, The New York Times reported.

When we’re walking the crowded streets of New York, what degree of privacy should we expect?

The New York State Supreme Court dismissed the suit last month, saying that the photographer’s right to artistic expression was above the citizen’s privacy rights.

Yes, the practice of street photography has a long history, and while the state’s privacy laws refer to the unauthorized use of a person’s likeness for commercial use, isn’t this artist making money off of his work? Mr. diCorcia will make money off of Mr. Nussenzweig’s likeness. What’s more, Mr. Nussenzweig says the use of his image is against his religious belief.

The judge concluded:

“Even while recognizing art as exempted from the reach of New York’s privacy laws, the problem of sorting out what may or may not legally be art remains a difficult one,” she wrote. As for the religious claims, she said: “Clearly, plaintiff finds the use of the photograph bearing his likeness deeply and spiritually offensive. While sensitive to plaintiff’s distress, it is not redressable in the courts of civil law.”

- Riva Froymovich