By Carlotta Mohamed
“Faces of The 7 Train,” the much-awaited street photography exhibit, has been canceled by the Queens Public Library citing privacy concerns.
On the afternoon of Friday, Dec. 7, one week before the exhibit was to open and three weeks after the exhibit was approved, exhibit creator Drew Kerr, a media artist, said he received a forwarded email from Queens Public Library Deputy General Counsel Sara Hausner-Levine to the Flushing branch manager, Yang Zeng.
“We don’t feel comfortable moving forward with this exhibit, as there are serious concerns regarding possible privacy and IP infringement. If anyone would like to discuss further, please feel free to reach out to me,” Haunser-Levine wrote in the email that Kerr forwarded to TimesLedger.
Kerr’s photo exhibit was set to open Friday, Dec. 14 with a public reception the following afternoon.
Queens Library, however, said that Kerr reached out to Queens Library President and CEO Dennis Walcott asking him to reconsider his decision.
“We contacted the photographer on Tuesday to tell him that the library will not to move forward with displaying the exhibition because we are not comfortable with the approach to photographing the subjects,” according to a Queens Library spokesperson. “We told him we understand his disappointment and that if others at the library had been made aware of the exhibition when he first approached us in October, we would have declined to display it based on the way the photos were taken.”
The Queens Library spokesperson said that it “made clear to the photographer that our judgment is not based on the legal right to take or display the photos. The issue is that we are not comfortable with the way they were taken — “in secret” — and how the artist characterized his methodology in some news coverage about the exhibit.”
Kerr used his iPhone to shoot 32 photographs of subway riders on the 7 train over the past six years. All of the photos were shot “in secret” to create natural and unposed portraiture.
“Faces of The 7 Train” is a tribute to Kerr’s favorite subway line. The project was inspired by the day-long “World of The 7 Train” tour conducted by Queens Borough Historian Dr. Jack Eichenbaum that Kerr took several years ago.
“Possible privacy and IP infringement of street photography taken in public spaces is totally wrong, since journalists and photographers shoot people in public spaces all the time,” said Kerr.
Kerr noted a case law Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia, where the New York Supreme Court decided that a photographer could display, publish, and sell street photography without the consent of the subjects of those photographs.
He also pointed out the MTA’s Rules of Conduct permitting photography, which states that filming or video recording in any facility or conveyance is permitted except that ancillary equipment such as lights, reflectors or tripods may not be used.
“There is simply no excuse to prevent showing totally safe photographic art shot in public spaces,” Kerr argued. “Journalists and photographers shoot holiday season shoppers, Salvation Army bell ringers in front of stores, and thousands filling Times Square to watch the New Year’s ball drop. Does Queens Public Library management know something different about the first amendment that nobody else does?”
In response to the Queens Public Library unexpected cancellation of the exhibit, Kerr and a group of supporters will display parts of his exhibit in front of the Flushing Queens Public Library on Friday, Dec. 14 at 41-17 Main St.
Kerr created a new website, Queens Public Library Censors Artists, alerting artists to reconsider working wit the Queens Public Library in the future.
The exhibit and reception are listed in the library’s print brochure for December 2018. The exhibit received favorable preview press coverage one week before the exhibit was set to open, according to Kerr.
Kerr is hoping any venue that appreciates well-done local street photography would be willing to host his exhibit, even if for just one week.
Reach reporter Carlotta Mohamed by e-mail at cmoha