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With explosive disclosures about the long arm of the National Security Agency, the nation is engaged in an intense debate about privacy and spying. Now there is another snoop in town: the contemporary artist.

Doug Rickard’s Surveillance Art

Annie Tritt for The Wall Street JournalPolaroids collected by Doug Rickard are displayed in his studio.

Fine-art photographers are flocking to what some are calling “surveillance art”—a wide-ranging practice that includes trolling online to appropriate photos of strangers, presenting images of top-secret sites from the ground and air and using covert tactics to shoot unsuspecting subjects. The work is landing in major museums, appearing at high-profile galleries and fetching more than $60,000—even if some of it is lifted straight off the Internet…


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“The vogue for digital photography is a constructive development that, for the most part, enhances our experience of art. First, there is the eye factor. A visitor who photographs van Gogh’s “Starry Night” echoes, however wanly or casually, the basic mission of visual art: to celebrate the act of looking. When you gaze through a lens, you are likely to consider the world more deeply. You frame space and take note of composition, the curve of a line, the play of light and shadow. As the photographer Dorothea Lange noted, “The camera is an instrument that teaches people how to see without a camera.”
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PERPIGNAN, France — A 13th-century church is a fitting location for the exhibition of war photographs by Don McCullin, a man intent on paying public penance. Most photographers would be proud of the honors and accolades showered on Mr. McCullin at Perpignan’s Visa Pour l’Image festival this week.

Instead, he recoiled in shame, as if the words had wounded him.

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