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Photos taken through windows anger NYers

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By Jake Pearson
Sunday, May 19, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

In one photo, a woman is on all fours, presumably picking something up, her posterior pressed against a glass window. Another photo shows a couple in bathrobes, their feet touching beneath a table. And there is one of a man, in jeans and a T-shirt, lying on his side, napping.

In the photos, taken by New York City artist Arne Svenson from his second-floor apartment, the faces are obscured or not shown. The people are unidentifiable.

But the residents of a glass-walled luxury residential building across the street had no idea they were being photographed and never consented to being subjects for the works of art that are now on display — and for sale — in a Manhattan gallery.

“I don't feel it's a violation in a legal sense, but in a New York, personal sense there was a line crossed,” said Michelle Sylvester, who lives in the residential building called the Zinc Building, which has floor-to-ceiling windows in a neighborhood of cobblestone streets and brick warehouse buildings.

Svenson's apartment is directly across the street, just to the south, giving him a clear view of his neighbors by simply looking out his window.

Svenson's show, “The Neighbors,” opened May 11 at the Julie Saul Gallery in Chelsea, where about a dozen large prints are on sale for up to $7,500. His exhibit is drawing a lot of attention, not for the quality of the work, but for the manner in which it was made.

Svenson did not respond to a request for comment, but says in material accompanying the exhibit that the idea for it came when he inherited a telephoto lens from a friend.

“For my subjects, there is no question of privacy; they are performing behind a transparent scrim on a stage of their own creation with the curtain raised high,” Svenson says in the gallery notes. “The Neighbors don't know they are being photographed; I carefully shoot from the shadows of my home into theirs.”

That explanation has done little to satisfy some residents of the Zinc Building. In an email circulating among the building's owners and renters this week, a resident whose apartment was depicted in Svenson's photographs suggested legal recourse against the artist.

“I am not an expert in this area of the law, but I do think we may have some rights and the ability to stop this,” the email reads.

Civil-rights lawyer Norman Siegel said that, according to New York civil-rights law, there may be a way for Svenson's subjects to challenge him in court, but the case will depend on context.

“The question for the person who's suing is, if you're not identifiable, then where's the loss of privacy?” he said.

Jake Pearson is a staff writer for the Associated Press.

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