I don’t know much about Richard Prince, but I like to think that he’s in the business of operating at the edges of what’s acceptable. Whether he’s pushing the boundaries or just working in the grey area I think it’s important for art to have trouble makers. I’m more comfortable thinking about blank canvasses and drawing on top of images as important for pushing boundaries that other work can be built upon than worrying about whether this is something that will be admired centuries from now. I believe the title of this piece Jonathan Blaustein wrote for me: “You Don’t Always Get Art, But We Still Need More Of It“.
So, what about the grey area when it comes to photography and privacy. This is certainly a contentious and topical issue when it comes to paparazzi chasing celebrities or people taking pictures of slaughterhouses. Recent attempts at legislation in those areas (here, here, here) suggest people would like to limit the first amendment right to photography in public places. An exhibition at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea seems to be pushing the boundary of privacy and photography. Photographer Arne Svenson shot pictures of residents in a neighboring building with a telephoto lens from his own apartment across the street. In a story for the New York Times Magazine, Photography Director Kathy Ryan contemplates the artistry vs. privacy issue:
These particular pictures are problematic, even for those, like me, who overwhelmingly side with artists and journalists when it comes to questions of freedom of expression. I support the artist’s right to make and exhibit his art and feel Svenson has the right to exhibit these pictures. But if images surfaced in a gallery of my daughter in our home, shot by a photographer using a long lens without our knowledge, I wouldn’t be happy. So the question arises, is it art when it’s a photograph of someone else, but not when it’s you or your family?
I think in the end Arne Svenson may run into “a reasonable expectation of privacy” which is what makes street photography and making pictures in public possible and taking pictures of people in their homes illegal (Note: consult a lawyer, this is just my opinion).
But, I agree with Kathy in her conclusion that “the freedoms enjoyed by artists and journalists are worth possible breaches of privacy.” Boundary pushing is good for art, we don’t always “get it”, but it allows other artists to build upon it.