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‘Faces of the 7 Train’ Exhibit Abruptly Canceled by Queens Library Over Privacy Concerns, Artist Cries Foul

Queens Library’s Flushing Branch at 41-17 Main St. (Google Maps)

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.

An image from the “Faces of the 7 Train” collection (Photo: Drew Kerr)

“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.”

An image from the “Faces of the 7 Train” collection (Photo: Drew Kerr)

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.

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17 Comments

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1A Lesson

You people need to get off your high horses and understand your face is captured EVERYDAY via NYPD cameras, security cameras in stores, every time you do an ATM withdraw, whenever you cross a NYC bridge, etc. Yet I don’t hear anyone objecting to those cameras.

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ATT

Your image is recorded, but you are NOT on display for the world to stare at. This is the big difference. I am an artist by profession and even I understand that. We live in the land of the model release, if that document is not signed then it is off limits for public display.

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ralph

That’s absolutely false. A ‘release’ is only necessary if said image is used for ‘commercial’ reasons. Which is why news articles of celebrities never need any signed documentation. As a matter of fact, the entire pappa-razzi industry of hounding celebrities while they’re in public is based upon that fact. You DON’T need anyone’s permission if they’re in the public space to take their picture nor do you need it if it’s published for news or artistic reasons. This show would have easily fallen into the latter category.

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Ashley

The entitlement exhibited by the artist is absurd. Yes, you may have the legal right to take those photos but there is no legal obligation for anyone to have to appreciate that work or give it an exhibition. Another off base unethical argument much like the free speech crowd that thinks it means they can produce content without consequences.

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Moshe Feder

Street photography and all photography in public places like the 7 train has always been legal. The artist has a constitutional right to show work of this kind.

I’m very disappointed that the Queens Library of all institutions would take a stance against free expression. Such a position is the polar opposite of the library’s proper mission. They should be ashamed of themselves for behaving with such gratuitous cowardice.

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Elliot

You know, if you go into the library and go find books from photographers you’ll find lots of books containing photographs just like the ones being presented here.

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KM

Anyone who knows anything about street photography and the law knows that there is no expectation of privacy when you are on the street. Street photography has had many artists in the past who are now famous by dint of capturing the unposed moments of real life. The list is long. Cartier-Bresson, Winogrand, Meyerowitz, Doisneau, Maier, and on and on.
I will say, the artist could have done a better job of PR and prep but he did nothing wrong legall, ethically, or morally. Any media lawyer would have a field day with this except there is no money involved here. That’s where it would become a different issue, making money off the images of people who he did not get permission from.

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RCVW

Being a fellow visual artist myself, I have to say the times we live in are ultra sensitive and work such as this is no longer considered art but, rather in obtrution of privacy. 10 years ago or more, this work would be praised as realism, photo journalism & an authentic documentation of the era, people and urban environment of the decade. Sadly not the case these days and really a shame for artists, art lovers and for future endeavors.

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NO pics On 7 Train

The Library was correct. I would not want photos of me published anywhere, it is an invasion of privacy.

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ralph

The courts have already ruled that one has no expectation of privacy while in the public space. You may not agree with it. But legally? There’s zero that you can do about it.

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Antonio

I think Queens Library did the right thing. Secretly taking photos of people and then showing them in a public gallery without their consent seems like intruding their privacy to me.

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camera shy straphanger

Whether or not it is legally allowed, not everyone consents to being photographed whenever they leave the house.

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A 7 train rider

Thank you for acting with ethical concern about this exhibit. The artist seems insensitive and tine deaf. But I’m not surprised.

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Sal

You need authorization from the people in the photo! He is using their faces without their permission!

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