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Identity

Artist captures how strangers react to her body in public and it's fascinating

Haley Morris-Cafiero's photos might make you rethink how you look at people.

Artist captures how strangers react to her body in public and it's fascinating
Credit: Haley Morris-Cafiero

Artist Haley Morris-Cafiero describes herself on her website as "part performer, part artist, part provocateur, part spectator." Her recent project, titled "Wait Watchers" has elements of all her self-descriptors.

In an email to us, Morris-Cafiero explained that she set up a camera in the street and stood in front of it, doing mundane activities like looking at a map or eating gelato. While she's standing there she sets off her camera, taking hundreds of photos.



Later, she looks through them and sees what is happening around her. Morris-Cafiero finds that people are often looking at her body, or commenting on it with their gaze or body language, at times even appearing to mock her.

"I then examine the images to see if any of the passersby had a critical or questioning element in their face or body language."

"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. The project is a performative form of street photography," she writes.

Her work has been exhibited across the U.S. and abroad.

body shaming

Artist Haley Morris-Cafiero filmed people's reactions to her

Haley Morris-Cafiero

Haley Morris-Cafiero

She also published her book, The Watchers, which shows her photo collection and includes comments made to her about her body from passerby.

Haley Morris-Cafiero

You can see that even people in positions of authority, like this police officer, feel comfortable mocking her just for being out in public.

Haley Morris-Cafiero

Though she's not looking at the people around her, Morris-Cafiero's photographs capture a split second in time that really crystalizes how people relate to one another on the street and the judgment she receives from strangers.

Haley Morris-Cafiero

In galleries, with the words beside them, the photos are even more pointed. She also includes the positive words she receives from people who have experienced discrimination for their size or any other aspect to their body that is consistently bothered by the dominant culture.

Though we all theoretically know that people, women in particular, are discriminated against for their size, seeing it captured in photographs is gut-wrenching:

The project has gone viral as people identify with Morris-Cafiero's experience, which means a lot of people relate to being stared at and commented on by folks who should mind their own business. Does that include you? You can check out more of her incredible work here.


This article originally appeared on 11.28.22

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