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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