New York photographer Arne Svenson took photos of his neighbors inside their apartment using a telephoto lens. When the photographer’s show “The Neighbors” opened at a gallery, it was met with the outrage of people who did not give consent to having their privacy violated. Even though Svenson may be considered to have the right to free speech, he acted unethically because of causing others discomfort.
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According to cultural relativism, as a photographer, Svenson acted based on his own ethical perceptions which may be different from the ones of other people (Brusseau 138). However, such an assumption rejects the formulation of traditional ethics and speaks to the importance of viewing this as a dilemma. This poses a question of whether he has an individual sense of beauty or he is an impudent person preying on the privacy of others. One may doubt his methods of getting an interesting photo, but his dedication to the profession and non-standard approach are fascinating.
Incorporating principles of discourse ethics does not seem to bring any clarity to the issue as it is hard to imagine the dialogue between the photographer and people. Of course, one may argue that Svenson could talk to some people and only when he got consent to take photos of some of them could he actually do this. However, it is unclear whether Svenson was interested in getting the permission or he wanted to get attention through the scandal.
On the other hand, when applying the principle of virtue ethics, one may argue that Svenson is ethically wrong. Violating one’s privacy and taking photos of people when they were enjoying the comfort of their home and were not aware of Svenson watching them may be considered disrespectful and rude. The photographer did not take into account how uncomfortable people would feel when they recognized themselves in his photos.
To sum up, it is possible to apply the case to cultural relativism, virtue ethics, and discourse ethics to get a multi-dimensional understanding of the issue. However, only virtue ethics gives a specific answer to the dilemma and provides an insight into the ethical component of the case. Assuming that Svenson frankly neglected the feelings of other people, his actions may be considered ethically unjustifiable.
Brusseau, James. The Business Ethics Workshop Version 1.0. Saylor Academy, 2012.