IN 1999 Philip-Lorca diCorcia set up his camera on a tripod in Times Square, attached strobe lights to scaffolding across the street and, in the time-honored tradition of street photography, took a random series of pictures of strangers passing under his lights....Are you glad the artist won? Does whatever sympathy you have for Nussenzweig increase if you know that his religion bars the use of graven images? Does your sympathy for the artist depend on whether his choice of images makes him seem humanistic or misanthropic?
When Erno Nussenzweig, an Orthodox Jew and retired diamond merchant from Union City, N.J., saw his picture last year in the exhibition catalog, he called his lawyer. And then he sued Mr. diCorcia and Pace for exhibiting and publishing the portrait without permission and profiting from it financially. The suit sought an injunction to halt sales and publication of the photograph, as well as $500,000 in compensatory damages and $1.5 million in punitive damages.
The suit was dismissed last month by a New York State Supreme Court judge who said that the photographer's right to artistic expression trumped the subject's privacy rights.
The judge's decision depended on a finding that the photograph was art. She noted diCorcia's "general reputation as a photographic artist in the international artistic community." Do those of us with less of a reputation have less freedom to photograph strangers? Do you want a judge deciding who's an artist and who isn't?
Do you take photos of strangers without their permission? If you don't, is it because you worry about getting sued? Or would you refrain even if you were sure you couldn't be sued? Is it wrong to intrude on a person's privacy like this? People expose their faces in public. We're allowed to look, aren't we? But it's considered rude to stare. Is a photograph an endless stare, a proper cause of outrage?