BLOG – HK Photographer Michael Wolf May Be Legal Trouble Over ‘Window Watching’ 7


Michael Wolf’s ‘Window Watching’ series went viral after Hong Wrong posted his latest photographic series two weeks ago – click here to see the full set. The South China Morning Mouthpiece reports today that the German photographer may be in legal trouble should any of his subjects complain.

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A man pointing to an article pointing at a blog, on said blog

The photos were apparently shot at Island Crest in Sai Ying Pun.

Wolf pled the fifth over whether he sought permission from those photographed going about their private business in their homes. We can therefore probably conclude that he didn’t obtain model releases…

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Is the series intrusive? Where is the line between street photography and an invasion of privacy? The SCMP quoted HK visual artist Michelle Kuen Suet Fung…

“There is a lot of interesting subtext in Wolf’s photographs… A person living in a very crowded situation and a person living in a humongous house in Hong Kong will have very different reactions to his works. Does artistic merit and talent give him the right to violate people’s privacy? No. I don’t think artists should hurt lives to make art.”

See also: Wolf’s most famous work, ‘Architecture of Density‘, ‘Cornerhouses‘ and ‘100×100’.

In Foam Magazine, Wolf explained his ‘fascination with peeping’ and his ‘curiosity’…

“I’m not sure how comfortable I would feel if I knew someone would come into my room while I was sleeping and take my picture. I think, spontaneously, I wouldn’t feel comfortable.”

A Privacy Commissioner spokeswoman would not comment on the case unless someone complained, though the photos (which will form part of a new book) are defined as ‘personal data’ since the subjects are identifiable. An HK barrister said…

“Since those photos have already been published on the internet, those people have had their privacy grievously invaded and have no practical way of getting compensation. Theoretically, they can go to court and seek damages for breach of privacy, but an average person may not have the money to commence legal proceedings.”

Other sets which blur the lines of privacy include ‘Street View‘ and ‘Tokyo Compression‘…

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Inspiration for his previous voyeuristic work has been said to have come from Hitchcock (‘Rear Window’) and Edward Hopper.

Referring to US law, Jame Estrin of the New York Times responded to comments that a series of cropped and enlarged photographs of people in Chicago buildings constituted an invasion of privacy…

“As we understand it, the legal question is whether the subject of the photo had a reasonable expectation of privacy. In most states, the courts tend to side with photographers who are on public property, or their own property, and take pictures of things that could be witnessed by any passer-by. The thinking is that people have no expectation of privacy if they have placed themselves where strangers can glimpse them.”

Commenters on Reddit slammed ‘Window Watching’ as ‘creepy’, ‘invasive’, ‘tedious’, ‘uninspired’ and ‘unethical’. What do you think? Leave a comment below…


  • Interesting argument. Technically it shouldn’t be illegal, if your curtains are opened people will see you. However, I feel it’s not a ‘nice’ thing to do. It is a bit creepy and invasive, so I do think there should be some restriction on it. I would like to think I can be safe in my own home

    • Very true. Not illegal, but Its the principle of the matter.

  • Interesting argument. Technically it shouldn’t be illegal, if your curtains are opened people will see you. However, I feel it’s not a ‘nice’ thing to do. It is a bit creepy and invasive, so I do think there should be some restriction on it. I would like to think I can be safe in my own home

    • Polito

      Very true. Not illegal, but Its the principle of the matter.

  • Liam Hogan

    Common sense would suggest it is not illegal to take photos of what you can see, as long as you haven’t broken the law (trespass) to see it, BUT it also suggests that putting that up in a public forum (online or in a book on public sale) without either getting consent, OR blurring the faces (like google streetmap, say) OUGHT to be illegal. But that’s common sense, and probably has no relation to the law or to any possible action the “subjects” may practically take. Hope no-one buys the book.

  • Liam Hogan

    Common sense would suggest it is not illegal to take photos of what you can see, as long as you haven’t broken the law (trespass) to see it, BUT it also suggests that putting that up in a public forum (online or in a book on public sale) without either getting consent, OR blurring the faces (like google streetmap, say) OUGHT to be illegal. But that’s common sense, and probably has no relation to the law or to any possible action the “subjects” may practically take. Hope no-one buys the book.

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