Phantom Metrorail Photog: Art or Invasiveness?

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    NEWSLETTERS

    If you ride the Metro trains in Washington, a candid photo of you may show up on a website that focuses on Metro riders. The phantom photographer says it's art and it's legal. But not everyone likes it. (Published Tuesday, Aug 2, 2011)

    The Metro transit system carries hundreds of thousands of riders on its trains every day, and some of them are landing on the website DCMetroPeople.com simply for using public transportation.

    The website -- up since April 2010 -- is a collection of ordinary people just riding the rails, nothing obscene or embarrassing.

    “I ride Metro every day … I just want to … capture what I see every day,” said 26-year-old professional Ryan, the creator of the site.

    He likes taking pictures during the evening rush hour when the day is done for most people.  He also likes the late night crowd going home.

    Somewhat ironically, Ryan asked News4 not to disclose his face, saying it would make him recognizable and make it harder for him to take surreptitious shots.

    Ryan uses an iPhone with a variety of apps that allow him to take the photographs, crop them and post them to his website. His first photographs in 2010 were a bit grainy, but they actually complimented Metro’s stark architecture, he said.

    News4 first heard about the photo website when some people complained that Ryan was taking pictures and posting them online without permission.

    Several riders at the Archives-Navy Memorial Metro stop on Tuesday agreed that Ryan may have a right to take such pictures, but it still seems invasive.

    “That’s a little creepy,” one woman said.

    Some people who were put off by the idea at first changed their minds when they actually saw the photographs.

    “It’s my art,” Ryan said. “I’m not breaking the law. It’s not any different than Van Gogh sitting in a café painting somebody.”

    Once he spots a potential face or situation, he’ll often take the photograph while not looking directly at the subject, Ryan said. A few times his camera flash has gone off unexpectedly, but no one has ever complained directly to him, he said.