Disturbing Teen Girl Digital 'Art' Is Blatant Invasion of Privacy

Here's a story that might raise your eyebrows: A couple of 14-year-old girls took a bunch of photos of themselves on a computer showroom webcam, then a 28-year-old dude came along and ganked all 153 of the images for his own personal use. He then tracked down both girls on various social networks, displayed the girls' photos in public, and printed out a year's worth of Twitter posts from one of the girls.

Pretty creepy, right? Does it make it any less creepy to know he did this as part of an art project? Or is it even worse to know these 14-year-olds were made part of an exhibit titled Showroom Girls -- without their consent?

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The exhibit was shown this past summer at Amsterdam's Foam museum, and it basically consisted of censored images of the girls (he digitally covered their faces with large pink circles) and a printer which slowly printed an unreadable copy of one of the girl's tweets from May 2010 to May 2011.

The artist, Willem Popelier, says he believes people often expose themselves in an obsessive way and become fascinated by their own face and image, which he calls "digital narcissism." He claims that his purpose behind Showroom Girls was to give a different perspective on how photography and social media are used today:

I want to show you this in a different way than what you are used to. I want you to step out of your comfort zone and look at familiar things in a new light. I hope this will give you a new perspective on things you take for granted.

So, the question is—do you think this was a violation of privacy? He didn't uncover any information about the girls that they weren't already making public, and he found them in the first place because one of the girls happened to be wearing a necklace with her name on it. Still, is it really fair to imply these kids deserved unintended consequences because of their "digital narcissism"?

Also, I wonder what the computer store's policy is regarding the images that might be on their computers. Are images digitally captured in a store, library, or Internet cafe automatically up for grabs? Are there any ethical issues with a guy displaying images (which are really only somewhat obscured) of underage girls without a model's consent?

Are these the kinds of question he intended for people to ask, and thus I've fallen directly into his trap of being an Annoying Guy Who Calls Himself a Thought-Provoking Visual Artist and Probably Wears a Damn Beret?

It probably doesn't matter one way or the other whether it was the right thing for him to do, the point is that if he could do it, anyone could. Collecting found images isn't exactly groundbreaking material, but now that so much of our personal information can be easily discovered online, it makes you realize that even an anonymous image is no longer that.

Although maybe one of the lessons here, besides "Don't take a shitload of images on a computer store web camera," is "Don't wear a necklace with your name on it."

What's your take on this art project? Do you think it crosses a line—or do you think it simply points out some existing truths about our digital presence?



Image via WillemPopelier.com

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