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First Amendment Advocates Challenge Queens Library’s Decision to Cancel Photo Exhibit

Faces of the 7 Train

Dec. 24, 2018 By Meghan Sackman

A non-profit group that fights censorship is accusing the Queens Library of violating the first amendment rights of an artist by refusing to display his work.

The National Coalition Against Censorship, a decades old group that aims to protect First Amendment freedoms, is challenging the library for its decision to cancel a photo exhibit that consists of photos of 7 train riders.

The exhibit, ‘Faces of the 7 Train’ by artist Drew Kerr, consists of a series of 32 black and white photographs of 7 train riders taken over the course of six years. The photos were taken by Kerr without the knowledge or consent of the subjects.

Kerr, whose exhibit was supposed be shown at the Flushing branch beginning Dec. 14, was sent an e-mail by the library a week prior saying it would no longer show it—citing privacy concerns.

The library said it was not comfortable with the way Kerr took the photos.

Elisabeth de Bourbon, a spokesperson for the library, said the photos were taken ‘in secret,’ which was of concern. Furthermore, the library argues that some of the subjects might be undocumented immigrants putting them at risk.

NCAC wrote a letter to the CEO of the library, Dennis Walcott, and urged him to restore the exhibit.

“By cancelling Kerr’s show, Queens library is suppressing public access to artwork that is fully protected under the Constitution on purely subjective grounds,” the letter reads. “There is no reasonable state interest that this suppression serves.”

NCAC asks the library to reinstate the exhibit sometime in the first three months of 2019 at a time agreeable to them and the artist.

“This brilliant letter points out the purpose of a public library while living in a country where the arts are protected by the First Amendment,” Kerr said.

The letter also was sent to Mayor de Blasio as well as Borough President Melinda Katz.

De Bourbon said the library is reviewing the letter and is working on a response.

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“…Some of the subjects might be undocumented immigrants putting them at risk?” LOL… Heck, some of the subjects may be wanted criminals, putting them at risk. The law is quite clear on this; photography is absolutely legal in the public space and riders of the subway have zero expectation of privacy. If any of these subjects were undocumented, they themselves had put themselves at risk, firstly by being here illegally, and second, by showing themselves in public. Recording in the public space is rightly legal.


Drew Kerr comes across as a someone who gets off on being a voyeur. Obviously his ego, money making, and voyeuristic prowress takes precedence over other people’s privacy. What a self righteous jerk.


I guess in your version of the photographic universe, the Maiers, Bressons and Salgados better take a step back and get out of people’s faces, eh?


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