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November 23, 2009

Outlaw art: "The Man in the Window"

the man in the windowI'm not a huge art fanatic. But Friday evening, I helped hang one of the best more controversial art exhibits ever to appear in Baltimore.

There is a mysterious dude named John who lives across the street from the Idle Hour. He spends a lot of time peering out of his second-story window, looking down at Fort Avenue. But he never goes in Idle Hour. All we know about him is his name.

This is the part where John Woestendiek comes in. He's an incredible writer, blogger, former Sun staffer and, as it turns out, photographer. Woestendiek was fascinated by Window John, and sneakily took a bunch of photos of him in his window.

In short, Woestendiek went rogue.

Woestendiek had the photos printed and framed, and hung them at Idle Hour when the owners weren't around ...

He writes:

As a practical joke, it went off without a hitch. Both owners walked in to see the previously bare walls covered with Window Guy art. While I was a little worried about how they might react to the unauthorized exhibit, both seemed to get a good laugh out of it.

The exhibit, "John: The Man in the Window," was equally stunning and frightening. Woestendiek said he sold enough photos to almost pay for the expenses. And, he's already planning a follow-up.

Other than knowing his first name, I intentionally didn’t research John's background, or talk to him, because the exhibit was more about mystery, speculations and assumptions than about the reality. But I’m thinking the reality — learning about the man behind the enigma — might make for a good sequel.


(Photo by John Woestendiek)

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Posted by Sam Sessa at 9:54 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Bars & Clubs


Gad. I remember reading John W.'s writings back in the Philadelphia Inquirer years ago. I knew he was a writer par excellence, but a photographer too? I need to get together with him for a pint someday.......

Agree this makes for an interesting exhibit (and story). Given today's climate, not sure about the wisdom in an action like this though. Think about it...

what about this man"s right to privacy? it may strike Woestendiek as being funny but i'm sure the subject wouldn't be too happy having everyone in the bar looking in his window. so called art at the subject's expense cannot be called art. what a jerk!

As an artist I find this intriguing. As a lawyer (which I am not) I find it problematic.

Wo did no wrong.

I took a picture or this guy when i was outside at Idle Hour last week. Can I frame them and have some money too??

Thanks for that link, JMG. It was informative and relevant, but I think this situation differs from the Nussenzweig v. DiCorcia precedent: in that case, the subject was photographed out in public in Times Square. The Man in the Window was photographed while he was inside his home, without his consent or knowledge, and then the photo and location of his home were published on a blog. I don't know what the law says in regard to that, but I see this as a greater invasion of privacy than the Nussenzweig case ever was.

When I was living in Madrid, I went to the park. A hot blonde girl was taking pictures of a couple making out with a long lens. I was close to her. I took photos of her with my camera. She was pisssssssed off. Planned irony? Si.Lesson; treat people as you would like to be treated

If the photographer could reasonably be said to be hiding, then it's intrusion. Moreover, because these are in a bar with the owner's now approval, it's misappropriation. There's different kinds of controversial: know the difference.

I'm fine with the label "controversial," if that's what you want to call it, but, to those who are raising objections, photos taken from a public sidewalk of the outside of a second story window, or even a first story one, aren't an invasion of privacy in anyone's law book. Nor is displaying them without the subject's permission, as long as that subject isn't being used to make a profit for somebody else. And I can assure you that no profit is being made here. What the exhibit is actually about is judging something or somebody based on outside appearance. Ironic that it has led to blog commenters judging something they haven't even seen. Critics and others are invited to drop by and take a look.

These are hanging in a bar that is a business, correct? In the same way that you can't use music in a bar without permission, you can't use this. The Idle Hour can legally be said to be making money off the man's likeness.

Were you hiding from the subject when you took the pictures?

The law is a moral minimum

This is someone inside their own house? At what point does one become a peeping Tom? Pictures of someone inside their own home? Line meet crossed. Displaying and selling them? Would you be proud to show the subject these? Just curious. I really am conflicted.

I like the picture shown here and I'm sure the rest of the exhibit is quite interesting. I will try to stop by and see it.

I think I would be really upset if someone took pictures of me without my knowledge while I was in my home and then hung them up in a public place. I would be extremely pissed off and I would be having a very frank discussion with the person who did it. Seriously, my dad was Special Ops and I lived with an Army Ranger. I know some tricks so don't mess with me ;-) Ha ha.

I'm sure many of you would feel that it is an invasion of privacy but the only opinion that actually matters is that of the subject himself. Is anyone planning on showing him the pictures? Who knows, he may even like the whole thing.

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About Erik Maza
Erik Maza is a features reporter at the Baltimore Sun. He writes for several sections of the Sun paper and contributes weekly columns on music and nightlife. He also writes and edits the Midnight Sun blog. He often covers entertainment, business, and the business of entertainment. Occasionally, he writes about Four Loko, The Block, the liquor board, and those who practice "simulated sex with a potted palm tree." Before The Sun, he was a reporter at the Miami New Times. He's also written for Miami magazine, the Orlando Sentinel, the Sarasota Herald Tribune and the Gainesville Sun. Got tips? Gripes? Pitches? He's reachable at Click here to keep up with the dumb music he's listening to.

Midnight Sun covers Baltimore music, live entertainment, and nightlife news. On the blog, you'll find, among other things, concert announcements, breaking news, bars closings and openings, up-to-date coverage of crime in nightlife, new music, round-the-clock coverage of Virgin Mobile FreeFest, handy guides on bars staying open past 2 a.m. on New Year's Eve and those that carry Natty Boh on draft. Recurring features include seven-day nightlife guides, Concert News, guest reviews of bars and concerts, Wednesday Corkboard, and photo galleries, as well as reader-submitted photos. Thanks for reading.

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