Artist Uses Apple Store Visitors as Photo Subjects

July 7, 2011

A clever Brooklyn-based artist is exhibiting photographs of 1,000 computers users, surreptitiously taken by a software program he slipped onto Macintosh display computers at Manhattan Apple retail stores. Kyle McDonald’s “People Staring at Computers” collection is a study of store visitors old and young looking pensive, focused and perplexed, but not happy, thrilled or amazed. At least one photo shows a blue-shirted Apple employee studying a Mac screen with a worried-looking person in the background. Most intriguing, it’s impossible to tell what any of the computer users are viewing on the screen. McDonald dabbles in art ranging from experimentation with noise to immersive large-scale interactive installations, according to his bio, and he also develops software and hardware for artists. As part of his three-day Apple store project, McDonald returned to the stores and configured some display computers to randomly display the captured images, prompting some unusual reactions from visitors. McDonald has created a Web site to display some of the photos and a video explanation of the project. Update: According to Mashable, the U.S. Secret Service served a search warrant on McDonald and confiscated his computers and electronic gear as part of a computer crimes investigation. The Secret Service and FBI are the lead federal agencies for computer intrusion crimes. Apple attorneys contacted McDonald’s ISP, who warned McDonald of a possible criminal investigation, and he masked out the faces in his photos—with the face of Steve Jobs.

In response to an IFO email inquiry, McDonald has these remarks on privacy and participant compensation:

“My understanding is that legally, these people are in a private space that is open to the public and therefore can be photographed without consent. I asked the Apple store security if it was ok to take pictures, but did not specify the means of taking photos. They said it was good, and encouraged me to take photos. That said, I can understand if some people would rather not have their picture shown like this. In this case, they should contact me and I can remove their photo. Regarding compensation (for appearing)—I think if this was somehow being used as advertising or marketing material, compensation would make sense. Because it’s an art project I don’t think it makes sense.”

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{ 11 comments… read them below or add one }

Actual Apple Employee July 7, 2011 at 0730

Given that taking photos in the stores, particularly of the employees is something Apple doesn’t allow AND he tampered with the computers AND possible violations of New York’s laws about securing model releases from the folks he photographed, I expect to see someone sue him over this. And for him to become a person non grata at the Apple Stores.

Not to mention a major reeming of the stores staff for not noticing him putting a disc etc into a bunch of computers to install the software.


Another Actual Apple Employee July 7, 2011 at 1053

In New York City, if you’re in public you don’t have to get a model release for photographs, only for video. As for Apple not allowing photos to be taken in the stores, most flagship stores (especially the ones in Manhattan) turn a blind eye since they are as much tourist destinations as they are stores. The only “problem” I see here (legally, anyway) is that he altered the computers. I’m guessing he was more discrete than putting a disk in the drive. He more likely installed it by downloading it via the Internet.


FrMRApple July 8, 2011 at 0703

A retail store is not a public place. It is private property (this is why one can be asked to leave a store and one must comply). Retail stores are open to the public but certainly not a public space.


FrMRApple July 8, 2011 at 0659

An internal memo was sent out to apple stores a good 6-7 years ago notifying management that it was now allowed for customers to take personal photos in stores.


SubGenius July 11, 2011 at 1350

Then why is Photo Booth on every computer if not for customers to take personal photos?

I think the real issue is not taking photos, but how he went about it.


Mike Kaufmann July 7, 2011 at 0737

Yeah, I see lawsuits a-poppin! over this. But, a very interesting collection! All I can think of is, Are We Really That Ugly? I guess we are!


Andrew July 7, 2011 at 1316

Apparently, now Mr. McDonald is under Secret Service scrutiny:


carlsbad July 8, 2011 at 0006

WTF? The U.S. Secret Service is investigating this guy? For what?

I think this art project is cool!


EntertainmrntLawyer July 8, 2011 at 1054

I actually think this is a rather interesting art project. It made me realize that people rarely smile when using a computer. (Hardly what you’d see in any actual marketing propaganda.)

As for the legalities of this…. The other poster was correct… The artist does not need to secure a waiver or release for his ‘models.’. The subjects of the photos do have the right to ask that the photos not be published… But the artist doesn’t need to comply in any way if he doesn’t want too. It all boils down to who has a better lawyer in the event lawsuits start getting flung around.

I do also agree that he might face some legal troubles for HOW those photos where taken…. But then again… All those legalities can easily be disputed: “if I can’t take take photos… Why did they let me install the software?”

Ultimately… If anything… A slap on the wrist will be dished out, and the FBI will put a big magnet on his hard drive. (I wonder if the artist is a Mac or a PC?)


granny July 9, 2011 at 2249

Wow, apple so scared that people can realize MACs (and any other computers) can’t make them happy… Said that secret service are serving these who pay them rather the society :/


rp July 19, 2011 at 2002

unless your last name starts with “Ive”, Apple does not care about your art project


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