When photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero decided to take pictures of herself in environments that made her feel uncomfortable, she didn’t expect to come up with another project that earned her a world-wide fame. “Wait Watchers” is a social experiment in a form of series of photos collected into one book that capture how passers-by react to overweight people they see on the street.
Back in 2010, after taking a self-portrait on some steps in Times Square, the photographer noticed that a man behind her was staring at her instead of posing for his own picture. He did it for a while, so for the photographer it was obvious that he was indeed judging her. “I’ve heard people make comments on my weight, but I never thought I’d be able to capture that on film,” Morris-Cafiero further explained her wish to further explore situations like that.
The woman would set up a camera with a tripod in any public place that she thought was interesting and took pictures of herself doing normal things like talking on the phone or eating ice cream. She never dressed up for the occasion as she didn’t want her clothes to attract attention, and she never did anything to provoke the looks of people that she captured on film.
After publishing the photos Morris-Cafiero received a lot of comments encouraging her to start exercising, put more effort into dressing up, and maybe start wearing makeup so people wouldn’t look at her the way they do. This inspired her to continue with the series but this time she tried to photograph the reactions of strangers when she does exactly what the internet suggested her to do. And while the woman was trying to improve herself for others, the reactions of them were still the same.
The photographer, who struggled with eating disorders in the past and suffers from Hypothyroidism, claims that she doesn’t care what people think of her and this project is not made to make anyone feel bad. “I don’t do it out of anger. I consider it a social experiment. It’s not a ‘gotcha!’ kind of sensationalism. But it is taking the camera and reversing the gaze of the stranger back on to them. I think it’s a barometer of society, really.”
The series has stirred some controversy online, as not everyone supports the photographer’s claims. While the pictures do capture strangers glancing at the photographer, no one can claim with an absolute certainty that all of the looks are mocking or judging. According to many commenters online, the strangers are not necessarily negative when looking at someone, they just might have been curious about the camera or something outside the frame.
What are your thoughts on this project? Scroll down to see the pictures and let us know what you think in the comments.