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Does a photo really steal your soul?

“The Orthodox Jewish man in this photograph wants $1.6 million from the famous photographer who snapped it without consent.” Reports the NYPost.

In 2001 photographer Philip-Lorca diCorcia set up a camera and a stobe light on on the street and took photographs of unsuspecting passersby. The photos were later displayed at an art exhibit called ‘heads” in Chelsea. The photograph of Erno Nussenzweig, a retired diamond merchant from Jersey that you see here sold several copies at $20,000 each. The photo was also used in a book called “Heads” which has sold several thousand copies.

Having given no permission for the photo to be taken, and for receiving no compensation on the use of his image, Nussenzweig is now suing the photographer.

“We claim that to take someone’s picture without their consent is bad enough,” said Jay Goldberg, Nussenzweig’s lawyer. “But to then hang the picture in galleries, put it in books and sell it around the city without telling the person or obtaining permission is unfair and outrageous.”…

diCorcia responds

“It is a fundamental right, and I will defend it. I consider myself at the end of a long line of photographers who have done what is now being described as a malicious criminal act.”

As both a photographer and a civilian, I can see both sides, and my feelings on the issue are not entirely settled. But then I got to the end of the article where it states

DiCorcia said he doesn’t understand why Nussenzweig is so incensed. “My intentions were nothing but honorable,” diCorcia said. “If he is as other-worldly as his face makes him out to be, why would he care?”

Umm….what? Can someone please explain that to me? Was that not the snarkiest comment you’ve heard this side of the blogosphere? I mean, come on, $20,000 buys a lot of kreplach these days.

35 Comments

  1. client

    7/10/2005 at 10:27 am

    I hate when people take pictures of me. I ve always used tell people that according to the press law the photographer needs a consent of person being photographed unless the picture portrays a group of 5 people and more. This is what I was told years ago by one lawyerbut a) this was long before the paparazzi era b) now I think he s made it up anyway.
    Nevertheless I think that regardless of a potential loss on the soul side it s just a plain theft. So when this guy making big bucks claims that he comes from the long line of thieves that doesnt impress me much and doesnt make his act anymore just.
    The good news is that he admits that he is the end of this line.

  2. jessi

    7/10/2005 at 10:47 am

    Is their any source for the loosing soul thing? I didnt know that was a jewish belied?? Any way the Rebbe has billions of pics of him therefore its prob bull

  3. jessi

    7/10/2005 at 10:48 am

    *belief

  4. ybocher

    7/10/2005 at 11:00 am

    from what i know there is no such belief in jewish tradition n i bet client did not mean it for real.

  5. michael

    7/10/2005 at 11:04 am

    It’s traditional Australian aborigines who believe that photographs steal the soul. I don’t think Laya was implying any Jewish belief in this.

  6. client

    7/10/2005 at 11:14 am

    Jessi, ybocher is right – I didnt mean it.
    I thought though that the Arabs also have some soul issues with pictures. But not when it comes to reveal the Israeli oppression, right?
    BTW jessi, which Rebbe is “the Rebbe” who has billions of pics of him. I missed something again, huh?

  7. Jobber

    7/10/2005 at 1:57 pm

    He is ugly though. Must be alot of Aryan nation chapers in on this one, wholesale eh?

  8. esther

    7/10/2005 at 3:28 pm

    I wonder if he’d drop the lawsuit if the photographer gave him a cut.

  9. jessi

    7/10/2005 at 4:40 pm

    Erm…i thought that when you say the rebbe you know that it meant the lubavitc rebbe Menachem Schneerson…the one that everyone has pictures of everyone and idolise, oops, i mean, um..really like him.

  10. Yitz

    7/10/2005 at 11:00 pm

    I sent this story with the sources to you almost a week ago and you didn’t respond at all. …I don’t need credit for the story, but at least a private acknowledgement to my email would have been nice.

  11. ck

    7/10/2005 at 11:21 pm

    Yitz baby – How are you? This is Dave, remember we met a few times in Jerusalem. Laya is, as we speak, spending the night shift, midnight to 8 am at Hadassah Mt. Scopus with a birthright israel trip participant who may have appendicitis. I know she’s been hella busy – way more than usual so please don’t take offense!

  12. ybocher

    7/10/2005 at 11:28 pm

    i had my appendix taken out couple of weex ago. laya where were u then!!!

  13. michael

    7/11/2005 at 5:06 am

    Wait, that’s Yitz as in guitar-slinging Carlebachi generally-happy-dude that I met at Ezra’s? ‘Cause that Yitz is awesome.

    Dude. Yitz, we totally appreciate your investigative reporting (and if it makes you feel better, one of the soldiers on our trip has been complaining too that Laya doesn’t return her e-mails)…

  14. dwash

    7/11/2005 at 6:16 am

    Jews are not allowed to make statues or drawings of people, as they (we) are made in the image of god, and god is unimaginable. logically pictures should be in that category too. We would have had more great jewish painters if this tradition wouldn’t have been that strong 😉

  15. laya

    7/11/2005 at 7:03 am

    Indeed, no offense was meant in any way. PLEASE forgive me! PLEASE! And refuah shlema to Lauren Mendel, the doctors still don’t know what’s really wrong, except that she’s in an increadable amount of pain. If it continues another day or two, they’ll have to invent Mendel syndrome.

  16. chazarmaveth

    7/11/2005 at 9:29 am

    i posted a comment about the above photo and it appears to have been deleted.
    freakin’ snob-ass bitches.

  17. David M. Frost

    7/11/2005 at 9:52 am

    Wow, $1.6 million! Would somebody please tell the photographer that I would be willing to let him take my picture for half that? True, I don’t have a beard, but I still look sort of Jewish.

  18. michael

    7/11/2005 at 9:55 am

    We don’t delete any comments besides spam. If something happened to your comment, it was accidental. Here, take a Kleenex and cry it out, you whiny little bitch.

  19. Tom Morrissey

    7/11/2005 at 1:11 pm

    As a photo collector and diCorcia fan, I’ll stick up for the photographer. Our pal the subject had no reasonable expectation of privacy. (After all, we’re all photographed every time we visit an ATM or drop by the mall.)

    Lucky man, to have been immortalized by one of the leading artists of his generation. The ‘Heads’ images are an important contribution to the great American street photography tradition.

    Bravissimo!

  20. themiddle

    7/11/2005 at 1:22 pm

    Don’t you need to receive a waiver from a subject? I know you do if you’re putting somebody on tv.

  21. Tom Morrissey

    7/11/2005 at 1:28 pm

    Oh, and another thing– diCorcia’s absolutely right that artistic freedom is on the line. If Mr. Goldberg is correct, then we’ll have to remove the work of Arbus, Walker Evans, Robert Frank, Louis Faurer, Berenice Abbott, Nan Goldin, Joel Meyerowitz, Friedlander, Winogrand, and of many, many others, from musuem walls.

    On the other hand– perhaps Atget and Thomas Struth were prescient to keep people out of their street photographs. (Or had better lawyers.)

  22. Tom Morrissey

    7/11/2005 at 1:36 pm

    Middle, it’s a bit of a grey area legally. To the best of my understanding, it hinges on whether one has a reasonable expectation of privacy, given all the circumstances. (We don’t have such a thing at the ATM, or else are viewed to have impliedly assented to be photographed there.)

    If a photographer drops by your home, say, to shoot you for the first-ever ‘Commentary’ centerfold, then he/she should have you sign a release. Under those circumstances, you must affirmatively assent to be photographed, and to any use (exhibition, publication, etc.) to which the photo may be put.

    Absent such a release, you may have a cause of action for invasion of privacy.

    (As coincidence would have it, my own portrait was published in an art photo book last month. I’d had to sign a release. Which I’d actually drafted for the artist to use with all of his subjects. I signed– under protest, of course…)

  23. themiddle

    7/11/2005 at 1:43 pm

    I don’t know whether I agree with this lawsuit, but I understand the plaintiff. He wasn’t asked, and a profit is made from his image. If a model is paid to pose and to have her image used with a financial motive or gain for the ad agency and ultimate client of the ad agency, how is this different? DiCorcia is not taking the image and sharing it with friends, he is selling it. I recognize that his artistry and name are generating the bulk of the paid amount and if I were selling this image, it might not even fetch a dollar, but ultimately, he is profiting from this man’s image.

  24. Tom Morrissey

    7/11/2005 at 2:13 pm

    Middle, you’re right, the artist does profit. And the subject contributes some of that value. Ultimately, it’s where the line is drawn. one could make the same argument about photojournalism. Pictures of people (often in distress) make folks like Salgado wealthy and sell newspapers and magazines…

  25. themiddle

    7/11/2005 at 2:47 pm

    This will be an interesting case to track. I hope it settles before it destroys the photography market… 😉

  26. Rina

    7/12/2005 at 1:32 am

    its strange… but there’s just something… i dont know…. appealing? about that photo

  27. Grace

    7/12/2005 at 2:59 am

    I think the subject is a wonderful study. He has a very compelling expression.

    When I was in Israel, I found people to be incredibly camera shy. Seems to be a cultural thing. I love taking pictures, especially of interesting faces. There are so many amazingly beautiful people in Israel, and I hated that every single one I approached to ASK PERMISSION turned me down, but I respected their privacy. I wanted to do a photo essay on the faces of Judiasm, and title it “Funny, You Don’t Look Jewish!”. No pics of chosen peeps for me. 🙁

    I always wondered about the prohibition of images of people due to the idolotry thing. When I was in S’fat, there were galleries abounding with photos and paintings of Jewish people, by Jewish people. Supposedly very frum Orthodox artists.

    I do know that some ultra frum Orthodox (very few) actually prohibit even family photographs and magazines that might have a photo of a person in them.

    Can anyone here shed some light on this?

  28. Frieda Shor

    7/12/2005 at 6:18 am

    Why is it that my photograph is worth 100K–and its only found on Post Office Doors???

  29. Frieda Shor

    7/12/2005 at 6:20 am

    Oh, and ema and abba–why didnt you claim me when my likeness was on the back of the milk carton??? That must be what messed me up. I was Swiss Cheese by the time it dawned on them that it was I, and even then they waited for me to become Brie.

  30. Frieda Shor

    7/12/2005 at 6:29 am

    Re: Comment no. 28–Whoops–I think I meant 100 G. 100 K? Must be the runner in me. I think Im worth that too.

  31. ybocher

    7/12/2005 at 8:17 am

    1) laya how is that kid in a hospital?
    2) when u go to atm or wherever they might take yr pic, it is not done for any other then register/security etc reason and they r not interested in yr face but in the transaction u r making. it’ s like living an extra signature or a fingerprint. when one is portrayed by a photographer the object that is in the frocus is the very face as a representation of personality or context or whathever the artist wants to achive. so he is after yr image. in the atm or at the mall yr gain is the transaction u r making and in return u have picture being taken of. in the artistic/journalist photography the artist gains yr image and the subject of the picture shud have a choice – s/he chooses just immortality or money and immortality.

  32. esther

    7/12/2005 at 9:25 am

    Grace, I’d imagine it’s not idolatry per se, but instead has something to do with eschewing vanity and any beauty that comes from outer middos instead of inner middos…but that’s just a guess.

  33. Tom Morrissey

    7/12/2005 at 10:50 am

    For those who like the image, it’s actually rather brutally cropped as reproduced above. It’s not square-format, and the negative space (the blue-black urban background) is critical to the success of the picture. Prints are quite large, 48×60 inches (4×5 feet).

    Doubt you could get a print (ed. 10) at retail for less than, oh, $40K US, but that’s just a guess.

  34. parcequilfaut

    7/12/2005 at 2:41 pm

    I know nothing about the legality that surrounds this issue, just wanted to note something for client:

    Muslims sometimes eschew photography depending on their particular interpretation of the passages in the Q’ran which forbid the making of images in human form. It’s why most art in mosques is geometric or flora-based, because even pictures of animals are sketchy according to some (different interpretations of “face”, if I recall correctly, but the last time I studied this was nearly a decade ago). Photography introduced a new wrinkle into things. Their issue isn’t soul-theft but stepping into G-ds’ territory, so most imams say photography is OK as it only captures what is there and does not attempt to improve on G-d’s design, and some say not. Again, as I recall it, that’s the explanation.

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