Everyone feels the occasional eyes of a stranger on them at the grocery store or while walking down the street. It’s a creepy feeling, knowing that you’re being watched, and likely judged. But what about all the others looks that go unnoticed?
Haley Morris-Cafiero, a self-described performer, artist, provocateur and spectator, has been documenting how strangers react to her larger-set presence in public for years.
The artist titled this series “Wait Watchers,” and it depicts scenes of her doing mundane things in public, like eating an ice cream cone, scrolling through her phone or reading a map for directions, but it also captures the folks who happen to be looking at her in these public places during these moments. Alarmingly, most strangers who end up in Morris-Cafiero’s snaps are caught making judgmental faces, sneering or sometimes downright mocking her.
Example A, this police officer in uniform who thought it would be funny to sneakily hold his hat above her head:
“I consider my photographs a social experiment and I reverse the gaze back on to the stranger and place the viewer in the position of being a witness to a moment in time,” she told Distractify. “The project is a performative form of street photography.”
Other times, Morris-Cafiero is doing nothing more than minding her own business, watching the world go by. And still, people gawk at her body.
Morris-Cafiero explains on her website that she started the project after developing a roll of film that she shot on a trip to New York City in 2010; in one particular photo, she noticed a man gawking at her.
“It intrigued me that even though we were in the sensory overload capital of the world and he is being photographed by someone, he was fixated on me. And then it happened 5 minutes later on the same roll of film. Since then, I have set up my camera for the purpose of capturing the expressions of passersby,” she writes on her website.
— FiveADayYeah (@FiveADayYeah) March 20, 2014
Last year, Morris-Cafiero had her collection of her imagery turned into a hardcover book titled The Watchers and the photographs have been touring around the United States in an art exhibit that juxtaposes the photos with both negative messages she’s received from internet trolls.
VPAA, Haley Morris-Cafiero’s Wait Watchers is on view at the United Photo Industries Gallery alongside cruel comments from internet trolls. pic.twitter.com/3BcPnHdita
— MemphisCollegeofArt (@memphisart) March 10, 2017
Morris-Cafiero has a new project in the works for 2018, a photo series called The Bully Pulpit, which is a comment on the growing epidemic of cyberbullying, and more specifically, the cyberbullying she’s faced over the years.
Artwork like Morris-Cafiero’s might make some people uncomfortable, but that’s the point.