Dec. 11, 2018 By Meghan Sackman
The ‘Faces of the 7 Train’ exhibit, which was scheduled to be displayed at the Flushing branch of Queens Public Library this Friday, has been unexpectedly cancelled.
The street photography exhibit, curated by Drew Kerr and consisting of 32 candid images he took of 7 train riders over the past six years, appears to have been called off after Queens Library officials recently raised concerns about privacy and other issues with the pieces.
According to Kerr, the library’s deputy general counsel, Sara Hausner-Levine, sent an e-mail to Flushing branch manager Yang Zeng on Dec. 7—one week before the exhibit’s debut—about the legal challenges she perceived with the photos.
“We don’t feel comfortable moving forward with this exhibit, as there are serious concerns regarding possible privacy and IP infringement,” Hausner-Levine’s e-mail reads. “If anyone would like to discuss further, please feel free to reach out to me.”
The email, according to Kerr, comes just three weeks after the library approved the exhibit, with the event already printed on the brochure for December 2018 events at the space.
Kerr, who learned that his exhibit was in question on the same day of the apparent Dec. 7 email, was shocked at the library’s reasoning and called it “totally wrong”.
He argued that all of his shots were taken in a public space and therefore legally protected.
“There is simply no excuse to prevent showing totally safe photographic art shot in public spaces,” Kerr said in a release, later adding, “Does Queens Public Library management know something different about the first amendment that nobody else does?”
In a separate interview with the Flushing Post, Kerr said the library’s actions are a blow to artists everywhere. “There is no question this is censorship.”
Kerr also said he made his case to several Queens Library parties, including Dennis Walcott, president and CEO of the system.
The Queens Library, meanwhile, doubled down on its stance and said it decided not to move forward with displaying the exhibition upon further consideration because “we are not comfortable with the approach to photographing the subjects.”
“We understand his disappointment,” said Elisabeth de Bourbon, Queens Library spokesperson, who noted that the library officially made the decision to not run the exhibit today, and has already spoken to Kerr about it.
The library, however, said it is not making a judgement on the legal right to take or display the photos in its decision.
“The issue is that we are not comfortable with the way they were taken, i.e. ‘in secret,’ and how the methodology has been characterized in news coverage about the exhibit.”
Kerr, as part of his exhibit, said the images were taken “in secret to create natural and un-posed portraiture”. The subjects did not consent to their images being taken and did not know that they were being photographed, he said.
Despite the library’s decision, Kerr will still show up outside of the branch at 41-17 Main St. at noon to display some photos from his exhibit.
The make-shift exhibit will include a sign that reads, “This is a photo exhibit the Queens Public Library does not want you to see.”
“This is such a great tribute to the people of Queens,” Kerr said of his images. “I grew up in Queens, so I really want to see this through.”
Kerr has also set up a website warning other artists not to work with Queens Library.