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Woman Photographs Herself Receiving Strange Looks in Public
April 15, 2013 5:52 AM   Subscribe

Memphis-based photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has long been aware of strangers making fun of her behind her back due to her size. So aware, in fact, that she has turned the whole concept into a full-blown photography project. Titled Wait Watchers, the series consists of Morris-Cafiero’s self-portraits in public in which strangers can be seen in the background giving her strange looks and/or laughing. More photos at her website.
posted by Brandon Blatcher (133 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite

 
Some of those look very much like "OMG, what a fat person!" On the other hand, the woman in the third one looks rather anxious, like she fears being bitten, and the woman in the eighth is clearly trying to avoid a papercut from that map. So, there is that.
posted by GenjiandProust at 5:59 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Interesting shots.

The images capture the gazer in a microsecond moment where they, for unknowable reasons, have a look on their face that questions my presence.

I'd wager that a fair number are just wondering what on earth she's up to.
posted by jquinby at 6:00 AM on April 15, 2013 [80 favorites]


Her obesity is fairly average for the west, so while I get the intent of her project, is it really the case that so many people have so much time and interest making fun of people who are overweight? It would be a time-and-a-half job in most parts of the country.
Mostly it looks like she is stationing herself in locations where she is modestly in the way of traffic or posing just oddly enough to attract a curious look.
posted by docpops at 6:02 AM on April 15, 2013 [36 favorites]


I'm fat, and self-conscious about it, and have a history of being paranoid about people laughing at me about it, so this is playing on a lot of my fears. But at the same time, I still think it's quite possible that some of those facial expressions may not have anything to do with her size.

The Fug Girls sometimes comment on the weird facial expressions of the people in the background of red carpet shots, and those people are looking at actresses and models. So sometimes weird shit is just weird.

I think it'd be interesting to repeat this same experiment with someone smaller and compare the numbers -- I'd imagine a number of those shots *are* about her size, and I'd be curious how big that number is.
posted by jacquilynne at 6:04 AM on April 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


I don't want to detract from the main premise of this, because I think it's definitely a SERIOUS fact of many/most of those pictures (wtf, cops? really?), but at least a few of these people are just checking out her cool red sneakers.
posted by SharkParty at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I'm not convinced that any of the people in these photographs are making fun of her or reacting to her size, even in the case of the cop holding his hat over her head. That cop isn't making reference to her size at all — he might do that regularly to all sorts of people. They could just be glancing at a woman who is standing still in the middle of a crowded sidewalk, wondering what on earth she's doing or why she's taking pictures of herself, or reacting to her morose facial expressions. What these photographs convey is the sense of isolation and insecurity and otherness Morris-Cafiero feels and how she interprets the behaviour those around her, rather than what strangers really think of her.

I doubt most of them think twice about her. They're concentrating on themselves, just as she is.

I like Jacquilynne's idea of repeating the experiment with someone who isn't overweight.
posted by orange swan at 6:06 AM on April 15, 2013 [57 favorites]


is it really the case that so many people have so much time and interest making fun of people who are overweight?

Um, yes?

It's hard to tell in some of them, since her pose is kind of odd, and maybe the person is reacting to that, but a fair number of them can be reasonably interpreted as she does.
posted by GenjiandProust at 6:07 AM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I saw this a few weeks ago.

I don't agree with her project. How can she say that the reactions her camera records are actually of judgmental stares because of her weight, and not because she is perhaps standing in the middle of an pathway, wearing interesting clothing, or because of a look on her face?

Perhaps these passersby are looking at her with wonder and curiosity because her camera is aimed right at her person?

I think it's judgmental on her part to show the faces of these people in the images and claim they are staring at her because of her body image.
posted by photojlisa at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2013 [24 favorites]


Art then: look at the world!
Art now: look at me!
posted by thelonius at 6:08 AM on April 15, 2013 [32 favorites]


Morris-Cafiero then began setting up her camera in heavily trafficked public areas, composing the shots, setting a self-timer, and then stepping into the frame.

That's weird behavior, and it would draw a questioning look from me. Her size has nothing to do with it.
posted by Faint of Butt at 6:10 AM on April 15, 2013 [28 favorites]


Technically, "Look at me looking at the world looking at me"
posted by dng at 6:10 AM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I do not see all those people either looking or laughing at her because she is fat. In the first shot, her outfit is awful, but nothing you do not see every day. It does look like she went out of her way to look bad in clothes that do not fit.

And as someone else said she is not really so overweight that people would laugh or even notice her unless she is also doing something to be noticed.
posted by mermayd at 6:11 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


What I find interesting about the series is people reacting to a specific event or person. No doubt some of them may be reacting to her looks and weight, while others might be curious about the odd scene on a busy sidewalk. But which is which and who's to say some of the looks aren't a combination of both or other sentiments.

It's like we're Jane Goodall, studying humans in their natural habitat.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:15 AM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


I saw this before and share the skepticism that this is necessarily about her weight. In a number of the pictures, I'm not even convinced the people are looking at her (versus one where it looks to me like a passing person might be glancing at the bus shelter she's standing near), and in some of them where they are, it's not obvious that the person looking is doing any more than glancing at a person they're passing on the sidewalk. I think she confounds things by her unusual posture (standing pigeon-toed, for instance), and by slouching with that morose, blank expression on her face, which would draw attention and curiosity. That seems to be kind of her thing--if you look at the other photos on her website, self-portraits with that appearance seem to be what she was originally going for. The one of her on the swing is one of the clearest ones where it seems people nearby are looking at her thinking WTF, but she's sitting on the swing in that same morose pose. How would they be looking at her if she were cheerfully swinging, I wonder? As mentioned above, it would be interesting to do a companion project with a thinner person, but it would also be interesting to do one with a fat person (me, for instance--I'm much heavier than she is) who is dressed well, standing with good posture, and behaving in a way that fits in better with the milieu.

I'm not denying that that fat people get judgmental looks or harassment. I'm just not convinced that this series of photographs is documenting that.
posted by not that girl at 6:15 AM on April 15, 2013 [30 favorites]


That doesn't really seem fair though. I look at people in a half-interested way all the time. Regardless of what they look like. And I would probably especially look if they were obviously posing for a picture in a way that seems odd. But I guess I just works for their argument. It's still kind of interesting.

And when I say "posing" I mean that the camera is not hidden because you see people looking into it. So if I was coming upon the scene you'd likely see that her and the camera is static. Though she pretends to not see the camera.
posted by Napierzaza at 6:15 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I do not see all those people either looking or laughing at her because she is fat.

Man, she is really getting bagged on by the (cough) kind folks over at PetaPixel.

I mean, I take the project to be about the information the face and body conveys when people are checking someone else out when that other person isn't looking. It's street photography; it's not about her. The question of whether she's being looked at because she's fat, ugly, or poorly dressed, is secondary.

It's almost as if people are being defensive in their reaction to this.
posted by phaedon at 6:19 AM on April 15, 2013 [14 favorites]


I'm pretty surprised at the comments here so far. Yeah, it is possible no one is actually snickering directly at her behind her back, but that would totally miss the point of the photos. It's a powerful presentation of insecurity (both from within herself as well as society in general placing insecurity on her). It is willfully ignorant to think she is not constantly getting recognized for her size and instead it is because of her "awful outfit" or that she is taking a photo of herself in public.
posted by Corduroy at 6:19 AM on April 15, 2013 [19 favorites]


I understand and empathize with the concept of the project
It's more in the execution
Humanity tends to treat strangers like extras in the movie of life
Stopping in the middle of the sidewalk is going off script
posted by Bighappyfunhouse at 6:20 AM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


I think the looks are because of the shoes. Obviously the shoes.
posted by JJ86 at 6:21 AM on April 15, 2013


Art then: Look at me!
posted by hydrophonic at 6:24 AM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


The thing is, in most American cities she's not any fatter than half of the people walking around. I see dozens and dozens of people her size and larger, sometimes MUCH larger, every single day.
posted by Fnarf at 6:27 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


It's interesting to consider the photographer declaration of what the looks are and hear people in this thread say something different. Everyone has different takes on reality.
posted by Brandon Blatcher at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Some of the pics are in Barcelona, and she is standing in very high traffic areas. For example, immediately in the entrance of La Boqueria. I was there half an hour ago, it's a nightmare as usual, filled with tourists, thieves, pickpockets and people like me just trying to do some shopping. Anyone stopped dead and taking pictures right there -and there are lots - is going to get dirty looks.
posted by conifer at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


phaedon: I take the project to be about the information the face and body conveys when people are checking someone else out when that other person isn't looking. It's street photography; it's not about her. The question of whether she's being looked at because she's fat, ugly, or poorly dressed, is secondary.

The title of the project is "Wait Watchers" so she's definitely implicating her size to some extent.
posted by Rock Steady at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


I'm pretty surprised at the comments here so far. Yeah, it is possible no one is actually snickering directly at her behind her back, but that would totally miss the point of the photos. It's a powerful presentation of insecurity (both from within herself as well as society in general placing insecurity on her). It is willfully ignorant to think she is not constantly getting recognized for her size and instead it is because of her "awful outfit" or that she is taking a photo of herself in public.

As an exercise about the insecurity that people feel about their weight, I agree that it's interesting, but I honestly don't believe that that many people are staring at her in public for being overweight. Silently judging her? Sure. Gawking like she's a circus freak? Not likely, at least in America where her weight is hardly unusual.

Also, in plenty of these pictures there's clearly something else going on. The woman staring at her with the map is staring at her because she's got a giant map out in the middle of the sidewalk like an asshole. In the second picture, the guy's making a stupid face, but he's clearly posing for a picture taken by the girl in the coat. I don't think they're paying attention to her at all.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 6:28 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


As an overweight person I share her insecurities but a lot of these really seem to be 'Wtf is this strange person doing" and "I hope I am not in this damn picture I'm just trying to get from point a to point b".
posted by Malice at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


O wad some Power the giftie gie us To see oursels as ithers see us!
posted by TedW at 6:30 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


The cop isn't actually holding the hat, he's like levitating it or something.

in general these are almost as though her camera and tripod aren't invisible and people are looking at he wondering what she's doing.
posted by ook at 6:31 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I'm a pretty major fatty, and I usually take it for granted that most people don't give as much of a damn about the way I look as I do. That said, I think there's something cathartic in these photographs. She wears tee shirts that don't hide her weight, she poses awkwardly and unflatteringly, and people would probably give her weird or irritable looks for some of these even if she was thin (I feel like If I was walking somewhere and the person in front of me suddenly slowed down to fuck about with a huge map, I'd be giving them some evils myself).

That said, the phographs, put side by side by side, make her the 'normal' constant, and the people staring or laughing become the objects of interest. They subvert an experience that is almost universal: The fear that you are being mocked or stared at, by people who think you're too oblivious or stupid to notice. In these photographs, Morris-Cafiero is anything but oblivious. She stages herself in a certain way, provokes a certain response, and is acutely aware of how she expects to be percieved. She's making art, and the people who stop to sneer are the ones caught acting shamefully.

I don't think these photographs are about being fat, I think they're much more generally, about insecurity and taking ownership over how you expect others to view you. I'd agree that most of the looks she's gotten in these photographs are probably innocent, but there's something to be said for being able to meet the eyes of the people you disgust.
posted by emperor.seamus at 6:31 AM on April 15, 2013 [35 favorites]


wtf, cops? really?

Haha, no, the cops are cool. They see someone taking a picture in a touristy area, and they have a little harmless fun. I get the impression he does it a lot, to anyone he finds taking a picture there. It's got nothing to do with weight. How is putting a hat on someone's head a fat joke?

The downtown cops around here will sometimes act similar, and it's nice to see them acting like actual human beings. So this one is fine with me.
posted by echo target at 6:36 AM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


Phaedon: It's street photography; it's not about her. The question of whether she's being looked at because she's fat, ugly, or poorly dressed, is secondary.

Petapixel: Morris-Cafiero has long been aware of strangers making fun of her behind her back due to her size. So aware, in fact, that she has turned the whole concept into a full-blown photography project.

So, perhaps Petapixel are misrepresenting the project, but they do appear to be saying that this is explicitly conceived around the photographer's size. It might work better as "reactions to me acting weird in public", but even then there are some pretty weak ones. The aforementioned map, for instance -- if there's a big flappy thing in my peripheral vision, I will turn and look at it, instinctively. And I don't know about other people's facial expressions, but if mine is photographed at a random moment it tends to look anything from mildly goofy to downright freakish.
posted by pont at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


She's put herself into situations where people are simply curious about what she's doing. She's trying to shoehorn these photos into a pretty weak concept.
posted by davebush at 6:37 AM on April 15, 2013 [12 favorites]


Since I'm a city dweller and pedestrian, one of my pet peeves is people who get in the way of foot traffic. Don't stop dead in the middle of a crowded sidewalk and bust out your map! ARGH! I'd probably have trouble not shooting a map-starer a dirty look. And what are you even doing here? Everyone's moving in the same direction while you're standing still, facing in a different direction - and it looks like you're in a crosswalk, for crying out loud.

The people in the background could be looking at her for any reason, if they're looking at her at all. In some of them, it's not clear who who's supposed to be looking at her.

I think the premise behind these photos is valid, but the project itself is flawed. A set of these where she appears more integrated into the crowd, and where the stares are more obvious, could be really powerful. I'd like to see more from her.
posted by Metroid Baby at 6:38 AM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


emperor.seamus, I think you may be reading too much into it. I think her own explanation is legitimate. She simply wants to catch people making fun of her behind her back. However, her obvious awkward poses, the camera and slowing down in heavy foot traffic are going to garner attention and make this a bust and unfair to the casual glancers being shown in a negative light.
posted by Malice at 6:39 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


I've got little patience for this sort of thing. The least remarkable component in each picture is the artist herself.
posted by PuppyCat at 6:40 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


She's making art

And to that extent, it's fine.

But what is rubbing people the wrong way here is that she is also, in a way, purporting to do science by setting up a simple social experiment which appears to show that people are giving her dirty looks because of her weight or appearance. And it's a terrible experiment because (a) there's no control and (b) she's cherry picked the data.
posted by dontjumplarry at 6:40 AM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


As someone with a visible ... difference (I hesitate to call it a disability because it doesn't prevent me from doing anything), I have been stared at a LOT throughout my life. It's unnerving and I wish I could just blend into the background. I know why (some) people are staring at me because they will TELL ME (there was a guy just this weekend who asked me "what's going on with [your appearance]?"; usually it takes the form of "what's wrong with you?"). I mostly have a Fuck You, I'm Awesome attitude about it but I know it's shaped my personality over the years.

I share people's skepticism about this project; probably a lot of people are not staring at her specifically because she's fat, but if they are looking at her, that will be the first thing they notice, and that impulse is worth talking about. It's probably an unavoidable part of human nature; we tend to notice and comment on the most immediately different part of someone's appearance. Someone is described as "the black guy" not because the speaker is racist, but because it's the most effective descriptor when everyone else is not-black. This woman weighs more than the majority of people in the world, and people are not going to ignore it.
posted by desjardins at 6:42 AM on April 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


But what is rubbing people the wrong way here is that she is also, in a way, purporting to do science by setting up a simple social experiment which appears to show that people are giving her dirty looks because of her weight or appearance. And it's a terrible experiment because (a) there's no control and (b) she's cherry picked the data.

Oh, please. It's an art project, not a scientific study. She might be misreading people's intentions, but she's not "purporting to do science."
posted by desjardins at 6:45 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Ok, so technically astute Mefites, how could she do this project in such a way as to remove anything unusual about herself (other than weight) and get honest reactions from just her walking around? Could she mount a camera unobtrusively on her back, disguised, that took face-level pictures of anyone turning to look at her? That seems very possible, though video might be easier and just using stills. Then she could dress blandly and simply walk places without blocking traffic.

Would that work? If not, what would?
posted by emjaybee at 6:49 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


hydrophonic: "Art then: Look at me!"

Actually, the title of that piece is "Talk to the Hand."
posted by chavenet at 6:50 AM on April 15, 2013


"When I was in my twenties, I cared what people thought about me.
When I was in my thirties, I stopped caring what people thought about me.
When I reached my forties, I realised nobody had been thinking about me at all."
posted by TheophileEscargot at 6:50 AM on April 15, 2013 [20 favorites]


She would have to be acting natural and the camera would need to be hidden.
posted by Malice at 6:51 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I've got little patience for this sort of thing. The least remarkable component in each picture is the artist herself.

That's the point!
posted by Pope Guilty at 6:55 AM on April 15, 2013


Yeah, I've been thinking about this too. Maybe use a confederate who can hide in plain sight and take the shots.
posted by jquinby at 6:56 AM on April 15, 2013


I don't agree with her project. How can she say that the reactions her camera records are actually of judgmental stares because of her weight, and not because she is perhaps standing in the middle of an pathway, wearing interesting clothing, or because of a look on her face?

This.

This woman is making unfounded assumptions about the people in the crowds around her. I advise therapy.
posted by dfriedman at 6:57 AM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


I think anyone setting up a tripod in a crowded public space is going to get odd looks. At least most fashion bloggers pick empty streets. These are selfies with a supporting cast.
posted by Ideefixe at 6:59 AM on April 15, 2013


How can she say that the reactions her camera records are actually of judgmental stares because of her weight, and not because she is perhaps standing in the middle of an pathway, wearing interesting clothing, or because of a look on her face?

If you are insecure about yourself and you are in a public place and people around you react to you in an obscure manner it is quite possible that you will interpret it to be about your insecurity. This is sort of the point of the project. Try to keep up.

Everyone on Metafilter seems determined to attack any art project as not scientifically rigorous. It's tiresome.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:01 AM on April 15, 2013 [17 favorites]


Try to keep up.

Honestly, I thought the point of the project was up in the air. In your opinion the point is that she interprets the looks a certain way and we are left to judge whether she is correct in her assumptions?
posted by josher71 at 7:04 AM on April 15, 2013


The point of the photographs is the photographs.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:07 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Morris-Cafiero then began setting up her camera in heavily trafficked public areas, composing the shots, setting a self-timer, and then stepping into the frame.

I think this explains the odd looks more than anything. Passers-by see camera on tripod. Passers-by see woman standing still for the camera. Passers-by wonder wtf is up with this set-up. Quizzical/questioning looks ensue.
posted by Thorzdad at 7:09 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I found it heartbreaking. Fat people get especially shamed in public. It's annoying enough for someone to be futzing around with the map on a busy street... but if they have the gall to be FAT while doing it?!? They just get glared at in a way skinny people don't.
posted by selfmedicating at 7:14 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


The point of the photographs is the photographs.

Can you expand? I'm not trying to be deliberately obtuse, but are you trying to say that I should be looking at them without an idea of an artist's purpose or intent? Again, my ideas about art, looking at art, etc.. are very ill informed. I'm legitimately curious as to what you mean.
posted by josher71 at 7:15 AM on April 15, 2013


Everyone on Metafilter seems determined to attack any art project as not scientifically rigorous. It's tiresome.

Yeah along these lines, I guess what I meant in my previous comment was that to me her weight is secondary to the expressions other people are making. But you're right with the title of the project and all.. it's hard to go anywhere else with this..

I readily admit that some of her images are weaker than others. Heh, in fact the more I look at the photos, the less I like them! The one with the father and son on the swing especially. She looks like she's posing, the son is looking into the camera and the father may just as well be reacting to something else.
posted by phaedon at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2013


Everyone on Metafilter seems determined to attack any art project as not scientifically rigorous.

I don't expect scientific rigor out of an art project, but I do expect a certain amount of awareness about what's actually happening, especially if that art involves ascribing negative motives to other people.

This, to me, would be far more interesting if there was compelling evidence to suggest that it is all about her being fat, and not about her being in the way, or standing out in the myriad ways that she stands out. But the artist quote on that link suggests that she thinks being fat is the only distinguishing feature she has in these photos, and it's clearly not -- she's doing slightly odd, against the flow things in all of them.

I suppose if this art is about the artist, then it's an interesting look at how fat paranoia makes us look at the world. But if we take the artist's own words for it, that this art is about the other people, then I think we owe the other people the benefit of a little doubt.
posted by jacquilynne at 7:17 AM on April 15, 2013 [16 favorites]


>I'd wager that a fair number are just wondering what on earth she's up to.

This. Like the picture of her on the swing, she's a grown woman sitting on a swing, a forlorn expression on her face, and someone is taking a picture of her. So naturally the guy & his kid on the next swing are wondering what's up, or what she's doing to merit a photo.

Or for that matter she's just standing there in a crowd, doing nothing, or acting out of character (like holding a large unfolded map) for what others in the crowd are doing.
posted by thermonuclear.jive.turkey at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


In a bunch of the photos she's standing still in the middle of a fairly crowded sidewalk. I think that would earn you withering, hate-filled glares in a lot of cities.
posted by Kadin2048 at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


If people are disconcerted by her doing a public self-photography session, there's also quite probably an element of "you're taking pictures of yourself in public? Sorry, only people we consider cute should be 'modeling' for photos in that way." If she met conventional standards of beauty, she'd likely receive a whole different (not necessarily more pleasant) set of reactions.

Anyhow, video would have worked much better here since still shots let you freeze all sorts of bizarre expressions on the faces of people who aren't even registering the thing you think they're looking at.
posted by FelliniBlank at 7:18 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


Anyhow, video would have worked much better here since still shots let you freeze all sorts of bizarre expressions on the faces of people who aren't even registering the thing you think they're looking at.

Yeah, I'm all for catching people in the moment, but I think the overall criticism is that the photos do not link her weight to the bizarre expressions in a convincing fashion.
posted by phaedon at 7:21 AM on April 15, 2013


Maybe the point is that often times, when you're feeling self-conscious, it feels like everyone is sneering at you behind your back. You're told you're not interesting enough to be looked at when you voice this. Oh really? Check this out. People look at other people all the time. Some sneer, some look at your map, your gut, your shoes, your dress sense, your awkwardness, your scowl, your camera, your innate sense of disconnection. Most people aren't looking at you, though. You only notice the ones who do.
posted by h00py at 7:31 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Can you expand? I'm not trying to be deliberately obtuse, but are you trying to say that I should be looking at them without an idea of an artist's purpose or intent? Again, my ideas about art, looking at art, etc.. are very ill informed. I'm legitimately curious as to what you mean.

What I mean is that a lot of people in here seem to be reacting to this idea: that art involves ascribing negative motives to other people. But the art isn't doing any of that. The photographs are what they are. The artist explains her process behind taking these particular photographs, but at the same time art is not a critical essay. A series of photographs all lean together and give a certain impression, regardless of what the artist says or the gallery plaques say or whatever. If you came across this series in a gallery, all of these different shots of the same woman standing in different places with different people looking at her or reacting to her in certain ways, your reaction (or my reaction, at least) will not be: Here is a series of photos about how awful those people are, reacting to her weight!

It's a series exploring how people respond to other people in public, especially when they believe that those people are not aware that their response is registering. That's interesting to me, and the series points to that regardless of what the artist says. That the same figure is in each and looks a certain way will make me, the observer, being to think specifically about how people react to someone who looks a certain way in public. I will not think: That one particular guy in the hat is a bastard! I will think: Do I do this? Do people do this to me? Is our society as anonymous as I think? Etc.

The end.
posted by shakespeherian at 7:32 AM on April 15, 2013 [9 favorites]


but at the same time art is not a critical essay

This seems very overly broad. I have seen a significant amount of art I would consider to be a critical essay. Photography, in particular, and especially street photography, tends to make statements about its subjects or perhaps their situations.

If I seen these in a gallery without the artists comments (just the photographs) they would intrigue me (though I think they could be better executed in some cases), though I would not assume they are not staged. Once I heard the name of the display, or the artists idea of what it is, I would likely like it less, since I also agree the weight thing is probably only a small portion of peoples reactions.

I generally avoid seeing/reading interviews of authors I like since it seems so many of them are gits and it colours my impression of their work.
posted by Bovine Love at 7:51 AM on April 15, 2013


As has been touched on before, she's creating an obstruction to foot traffic by setting up a camera and posing strangely for pictures. This is a much bigger distraction than her weight. "Femme de la Rue" this is not.
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 8:03 AM on April 15, 2013


that art involves ascribing negative motives to other people. But the art isn't doing any of that.

Their presentation is.
posted by MartinWisse at 8:05 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


These seem to be pictures of people whose attention is drawn to something out of the ordinary, when sometimes they happen to have that grim "I'm in transit" look on their face. Except for the kid on the swing, who was more like "What are you doing over there?" I certainly would not have come out well in one of these and I'm not one who is surprised or disgusted by other peoples' bodies. I get that art is not science, but the science part of me wants to see this repeated with different models, in different cultures.
posted by bleep at 8:06 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Technically, "Look at me looking at the world looking at me."
posted by googly at 8:09 AM on April 15, 2013


Try to keep up.

The end.


Your interpretation of the art is more interesting than your obvious condescension towards others.

I agree, the art is definitely about how people respond to others, regardless of the artist's size and insecurities. I tend to skim or ignore artists' writeups of their own work (and I'm likewise not too interested in what musicians have to say about the meaning behind their songs) because they usually aren't so good at it. I tend to think the images speak for themselves, and my interpretation is more important than their intent. I agree with some other commenters who say the art is more interesting divested of the exhibit's title and framing.

That said, if I were in the background of one of her photos, I would be grinning at the camera if I noticed her at all. Otherwise, I'd be looking through her like any of the thousands of other obstacles I encounter while sidewalking in the city.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 8:15 AM on April 15, 2013


I apologize for my obvious condescension; as I said earlier, the constant war against ambiguity in art threads is ridiculously tiresome. But I do not wish to be a jerk.
posted by shakespeherian at 8:18 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Also, don't forget those of us that whenever we stumble into the path of some soon-to-be photo, get all self-conscious, bashful, and attempt to sneak out of the way. You might interpret it as disgust with the photographer and/or his/her subject, but it's not, just a weido mix of camera avoidance and "sorry to bother your pix".
posted by Iosephus at 8:30 AM on April 15, 2013


The photographs are what they are.

Not unless they were randomly posed and shot and selected.

She selected the places and the poses and the observers to show us, and she doesn't sound like she has a neutral attitude towards her subjects. She describes one man "sneering at me behind my back" and another who "turns his back to gawk at me" and so on. "I have always been aware of people making faces, commenting and laughing at me about my size. I now reverse the gaze and record their reactions to me while I perform mundane tasks in public spaces." She feels mocked for being fat (and not for taking mundane pictures of herself or standing in the way or whatever), and she is trying to turn the tables on her mockers by catching them having the nerve to look at her.
posted by pracowity at 8:33 AM on April 15, 2013 [7 favorites]


I am undecided as to whether she is capturing what she claims to be. I am clear that flatly denying it is at least partly about wanting to deny that we stare at people in public or make those faces. I know everyone here does. Hell, I'm fat and I do it. I think this project is a mirror.
posted by liketitanic at 8:42 AM on April 15, 2013 [4 favorites]


Reactions from passers-by in the US are probably different from those from passers-by in Barcelona. In the US she's not really remarkable, while in Barcelona she stands out (due the weight+clothes+haircut combination) as a North American tourist, or at least as a non-Spanish one.
posted by elgilito at 8:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


None of her poses look weird to me, and most of the locations look like places where it's not unheard of for people to occasionally be standing still.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:51 AM on April 15, 2013


Then again, I live in a town with a fairly high level of public weirdoism, so maybe I'm just not programmed to see it.
posted by The Underpants Monster at 8:52 AM on April 15, 2013


"That said, the phographs, put side by side by side, make her the 'normal' constant, and the people staring or laughing become the objects of interest.

Yes...

And as others have said, the artist's intention of capturing people reacting to her isn't as interesting as looking at the pictures again with a optimist's "objective" eye, and imagining something happening just off frame or a perfectly innocuous reason like her being in the way, or the pose she assumes. (for example, the lady in that picture could be looking down the street for her bus).

I think a more engaging component of these pictures is reading the comments about them. My determination of what the people are actually reacting to would likely reflect my own view of how others perceive me, and may speak to the size of my own ego as much as my physical size.
posted by Debaser626 at 8:52 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Most of the people in these images appear to be acutely aware of her camera. Others appear to be looking at something else entirely. For example, who is looking at/mocking her in this photo? No one, as far as I can tell. The young girl on the right seems to have her train face on (pedestrian face?) and looks to be staring at nothing in particular. The woman farther to the right appears to be looking down the street, maybe seeing if a cab is coming or if it's safe to cross the street (red light be damned!). The guy immediately behind her, well, I don't know. He's been captured in a bit of an odd pose, but he doesn't appear to be paying particular attention to the artist. He's just sort of standing there in a strange position.

There's also this photo. There appears to be a total of one person looking at her, and it is a casual, passing glance at best.

While I don't want to discount the fact that she may get rude looks and mockery in public, a lot of these images strike me as classic examples of the mere act of observation changing the outcome.

I also don't think that the artist is acting as mundanely as she thinks she is in many of these photos.

There are some interesting things going on in many of these photos, but I'm not sure that they reflect what the artist seems to suggest that they do.
posted by asnider at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2013


However you feel about whether or not you can draw conclusions about this project, taking pictures of people without asking is still asinine. HELLO STRANGER YOU GET TO BE ON THE INTERNET WITH A WEIRD EXPRESSION BECAUSE I WANT TO MAKE A POINT!
posted by adipocere at 8:54 AM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


Aside from the one on the beach, it is pictures of people "watching" another who is "waiting".
posted by P.o.B. at 8:57 AM on April 15, 2013


And if I were to read into the beach photo as it relates to the others, in just as literal a way she still seems to be innocuously impeding the flow of movement around her and still garnering a look.

I would rather have seen these without reading the presentation.
posted by P.o.B. at 9:10 AM on April 15, 2013


I would rather have seen these without reading the presentation.

I completely agree. Without the set-up ("People staring at me behind my back because I'm fat) I think I would have found this a much more interesting series. Instead I find myself evaluating every photo with that premise in mind and making judgements on her fatness (Trust me honey, you ain't nuthin special-- I live in the South.)
posted by Secret Life of Gravy at 9:15 AM on April 15, 2013


I don't doubt that people will mock other people on the street for things like weight or attire.

But ... I sure would give just about anyone some shitty, incredulous "Get out of my way" / "Oh god I don't want to be in this picture" looks if they were using a tripod to take self-portraits in a place like Times Square.
posted by bunderful at 9:16 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


The photographs are what they are.

Not unless they were randomly posed and shot and selected.


Huh? I'm pretty sure they are still the objects that they are regardless of how they were created.
posted by shakespeherian at 9:16 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


is it really the case that so many people have so much time and interest making fun of people who are overweight?

In my experience, yes. Hell, not half an hour ago I walked into the break room here at work just in time to hear a coworker bellow "Oh mah GAWD, if I had to wear pants that size I would KILL MYSELF!!". She was watching a story on the Today show about a woman who lost a large amount of weight. The woman's starting weight was not that much more than my current weight -- judging from her "before" photos I'd put her at close to this photographer's weight.

A lot of people just don't think of fat people as being actual people. Just look at the way any thread on weight loss or fat acceptance goes here. Look at the way anyone gets treated if they protest at the shitty way fat people are treated and talked about. I can't believe this is even a serious question.
posted by palomar at 9:19 AM on April 15, 2013 [6 favorites]


Many of these pictures are of people gawking at her, however, in NYC, one of the gravest social faux-pas one can commit is being in the way, standing still in the flow of foot traffic, etc. I'd wager that someone with a more mesomorphic/ectomorphic figure standing still in times square in the way of pedestrians would receive similar glares.

on preview, what Kadin2048 said above.
posted by Freen at 9:21 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It doesn't matter if the specific people who are looking at her in each photograph were actually looking at her to mock her for her size. When you are a person who is fat, or has any sort of body issue, it is easy to feel like people are looking at your and mocking you all the time.

I think that kind of unease of "are they looking at me? is it because I'm fat? oh, it's because i'm fat and these shorts are unflattering and my hair is probably a fat mess and how dare I leave the house and show my fat body in public" comes through in a lot of these photos. In that moment, it doesn't matter if someone is staring at you because you are fat, or because you have awesome shoes, it feels the same.

She didn't state on her website that she is documenting the actual reactions of people who are specifically responding to her size, so I think that criticism is largely irrelevant. She says she is: aware of people making faces, commenting and laughing at me about my size. I now reverse the gaze and record their reactions to me while I perform mundane tasks in public spaces.

I could interpret this as a way she is responding to her feelings that people are always looking at her because of her weight. Maybe they are, maybe they are not, but photographing them is a way of looking back at those who stare at her.
posted by inertia at 9:22 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


I look at jiggly people because jiggle is fun to look at, honestly. Is that objectification? Probably I should stop, and I do after a second, but I do think it's harmless. We're all fleshy and look funny and interesting sometimes. What's the deal?
posted by rhythm_queen at 9:36 AM on April 15, 2013


Some of these people may be looking at her because she is overweight, but most appear to just be looking at her. In several photos, I think she is stacking the deck (the knock-kneed stance, tapping on her phone in crowded thoroughfares.)

I'm fairly unremarkable looking, but I catch people on the street smirking, smiling, etc. "at me." In fact, you never really know why somebody is looking the way they are or what they are thinking. You don't know if the expression is even a reaction to you.

For a point of reference, check out Walker Evans' famous photos of subway riders.
posted by borges at 9:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Photography, in particular, and especially street photography, tends to make statements about its subjects or perhaps their situations.

I would like to offer a dissenting opionion about the nature of street photography. While visual puns and ironic commentary on their subjects are hallmarks of the style, street work is just as much about the gaze of the photographer. This is not particularly compelling to me as an example of street photography vernacular. On the other hand, it's not documentary enough in style that I care whether the looks are real or perceived. As a personal essay on what it feels like being fat in public? Works for me.
posted by Lorin at 9:56 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


Freen: Many of these pictures are of people gawking at her, however, in NYC, one of the gravest social faux-pas one can commit is being in the way, standing still in the flow of foot traffic, etc. I'd wager that someone with a more mesomorphic/ectomorphic figure standing still in times square in the way of pedestrians would receive similar glares.

Even if she wasn't standing still, I think a lot of people will pick up from her body language that she's not acting naturally, so they are likely to study her and wonder what she's up to.
posted by Mitrovarr at 10:06 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


docpops: Her obesity is fairly average for the west, so while I get the intent of her project, is it really the case that so many people have so much time and interest making fun of people who are overweight? It would be a time-and-a-half job in most parts of the country.
Mostly it looks like she is stationing herself in locations where she is modestly in the way of traffic or posing just oddly enough to attract a curious look.
Her obesity is far, far from "average". It's much more common than in many other countries, but not "average".

Her bodyshape is an outlier just about anywhere on Earth.
posted by IAmBroom at 10:06 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


“Standing on the Corner – Reflections Upon Garry Winogrand’s Photographic Gaze – Mirror of Self or World? Part II”

I know it's somewhat tedious that Winogrand comes up in every discussion of street photography, but his work photographing women is a perfect example of gaze and its central position in the genre. Being on the sidewalk does not street photography make. Defining street photography is a bit like pornography and a bit like bluegrass music: yes you know it when you see it, but without a mandolin is it really bluegrass?
posted by Lorin at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


A bunch of these are in Cuzco. While there are a lot of tourists there, she does seem to be particularly out of shape for the activities one would do around there. All you do there is hike up mountains in extremely thin air. There are still fat people in Peru, but it's a lot denser kind of fat. Not this sort of soft and squishy, out of shape American kind of fat. And I don't even know what she's doing in this picture.
posted by mike_bling at 10:07 AM on April 15, 2013


Maybe use a confederate who can hide in plain sight and take the shots.

Earlier this year we had an FPP that addressed using assistants to create art, what amount of assistance is ethical, what amount is common, etc. If Morris-Cafiero envisions the project, plans the logistics, and acts as the model while other people operate the cameras, is she still the "artist"? Is she still the "photographer"?

I think what frustrates people about how she framed this series—apart from potentially shaming bystanders whose behavior might be misrepresented—is that there's an element of laziness. It's totally plausible that people make fun of her behind her back for her size, and that idea does make for a potentially fascinating photo project. She almost certainly could capture those photos, but she hasn't. It's as if she conceived the idea, produced a first draft/trial run, then decided it would be too much work to revise, so now she's hoping the concept will prop up the execution and it doesn't.

Also, totally unrelated and this is just a pet peeve of mine, the photos look like they're straight from the camera. Just because you don't need developer doesn't mean you don't need to develop.
posted by cribcage at 10:08 AM on April 15, 2013 [11 favorites]


Yeah, this has been said above, but what the hey, the electrons are free.

I think anyone stopped in the middle of foot traffic has a high chance of people looking at them to see what or why. And it's easy to grab one frame of someone's face in motion where it looks odd or with the expression you want.

I think maybe the overall project/concept is an interesting statement, but at the individual picture level, I'm a little uneasy with it. I mean it's one step removed from me turning to look what a person's holding, so I can figure out why they're standing there, and then the person snapping OH SO YOU THINK I'M FAT!
posted by spinn at 10:12 AM on April 15, 2013


She almost certainly could capture those photos, but she hasn't. It's as if she conceived the idea, produced a first draft/trial run, then decided it would be too much work to revise, so now she's hoping the concept will prop up the execution and it doesn't.

Yeah, it is likely years of experience being fat are the key to their resonance for me. As a way of communicating this experience to others, maybe not as successful.
posted by Lorin at 10:13 AM on April 15, 2013


Yeah, there seems to be some paranoia here. Many of those looks just seem benign to me, and more like "this person is in my way", "why does she have that huge map out?", "here's someone taking a picture of themselves" and so on.
posted by Decani at 10:16 AM on April 15, 2013


Perhaps this project would have been better described as "a series of photographs representing how a person perceives the world around them, when they are differently-weighted." In other words, a representation of what the individual feels like in a world where they don't believe they are normal.

Taken in that perspective, it wouldn't matter whether the reactions of the crowd were because of the woman, or if it were something innocuous. What matters is how the woman feels the world is judging her based on her weight or appearance, regardless of whether or not it is true. Because that's how people feel, given the media blitz of how we're supposed to look and act.

Unfortunately, when the artist herself describes the reactions captured in photographs as "this really happened," it triggers a bunch of flags to suss out whether or not it actually did. I think we're too accustomed to finding out flaws in something that's advertised as truth, especially in a medium easily manipulated like photography.
posted by CancerMan at 10:30 AM on April 15, 2013 [3 favorites]


From the article:

The images capture the gazer in a microsecond moment where they, for unknowable reasons, have a look on their face that questions my presence.

Is there an artists statement some where where she ascribes motives to people?
posted by Ad hominem at 10:38 AM on April 15, 2013


Perhaps this project would have been better described as "a series of photographs representing how a person perceives the world around them, when they are differently-weighted." In other words, a representation of what the individual feels like in a world where they don't believe they are normal.

Taken in that perspective, it wouldn't matter whether the reactions of the crowd were because of the woman, or if it were something innocuous. What matters is how the woman feels the world is judging her based on her weight or appearance, regardless of whether or not it is true. Because that's how people feel, given the media blitz of how we're supposed to look and act.


I think that would have been a much more interesting read on the project. Hell, it would have made the awkwardness of some of her poses seem more appropriate: she stands out and appears somewhat awkward in these situations because she feels awkward and believes that she does stand out as being fat/different/unwelcome/etc.

When read this way, rather than as, "These people are clearly mocking me!" the project seems much more interesting (IMO, at least).
posted by asnider at 10:38 AM on April 15, 2013


Is there an artists statement somwhere where she ascribes motives to people?

http://haleymorriscafiero.com/about/#wait-watchers
posted by asnider at 10:41 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


http://haleymorriscafiero.com/about/#wait-watchers

Thanks, I don't know how I missed that.

I know they don't exist but she looks like a normal hipster to me.

Obviously I can't know what is really going on but it takes an awful lot to get people to gawk at you in times square. Being fat just ins't enough anymore with the naked cowboys and bucket drummers and guys painted silver and whatnot.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Ad hominem, shakespherian, others who believe that this project doesn't ascribe negative motives to the unnamed bystanders in these photographs, or that the artist isn't claiming that these people are looking askance at her because of her weight:

The artist says this explicitly in the artist's statement:
I have always been aware of people making faces, commenting and laughing at me about my size. I now reverse the gaze and record their reactions to me while I perform mundane tasks in public spaces.
The title of this series of photographs is a play on words referring to weight, that is, that people are watching her "weight" when really she is just there "wait"ing.

The only way I can conceive for the artist, or the presentation of this series of photographs, to more explicitly claim that people are looking at her because of her weight is if she said, "I, Haley Morris-Cafiero, the artist who created this series of photographs, hereby claim that these photographs capture people looking at me because of my weight." (I guess she could write that down and get it signed by a notary public?) The claim that this is some amorphous, "I'm just showing you this picture" project where the viewer is the one ascribing the negative motives to those people is clearly false.

She is making the claim that people are looking at her because of her size. She says this. It is an empirical claim about external reality. To make counter-claims is entirely reasonable. Maybe those bystanders are looking at her because she's fat. Maybe because she's standing still in a bustling intersection. Maybe because she's acting a clueless tourist. Maybe because people just look at other people in public. That's an open question. But to say that the artist isn't making a claim about why the bystanders are looking at her is demonstrably false.
posted by daveliepmann at 10:50 AM on April 15, 2013 [5 favorites]


Ad hominem, shakespherian, others who believe that this project doesn't ascribe negative motives to the unnamed bystanders in these photographs, or that the artist isn't claiming that these people are looking askance at her because of her weight

Whoa, I was just asking. Because the article her quote in the article says the motives are "unknowable".

I have since read the text you quoted.
posted by Ad hominem at 10:56 AM on April 15, 2013


Seems to me that in a number of these it's arguable that anyone is looking at her at all.
posted by IndigoJones at 11:03 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


The artist says this explicitly in the artist's statement:

Yes, I'm aware, but the artist's statement is separate from the work itself. Which is why I said: A series of photographs all lean together and give a certain impression, regardless of what the artist says or the gallery plaques say or whatever. The work itself may have specific commentary on what it depicts, but if it does it isn't about these specific people or these specific instances or circumstances. The work is not 'Here are the faces of these specific people who you should feel a certain way about.' It is not investigative journalism or an expose.

It is a collection of images which has been curated and titled by the artist to reflect that artist's interest in the project, but that does not mean that the artist's interest is itself the project.
posted by shakespeherian at 11:11 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Faint of Butt: Morris-Cafiero then began setting up her camera in heavily trafficked public areas, composing the shots, setting a self-timer, and then stepping into the frame.

That's weird behavior, and it would draw a questioning look from me. Her size has nothing to do with it.
Indeed. The kind of deliberate, attention-drawing behavior depicted in the photos would draw the GAZE OF THREAT ASSESSMENT from me. To the point that my next move would be to check my perimeter and free up my hands. Because obviously something is up.
posted by ob1quixote at 11:13 AM on April 15, 2013


I set up tripods, get photos taken, take photos of myself, etc., regularly and in public places, and I dress pretty weird. I have never gotten these sorts of reactions. There is literally not a single shot of people giving me curious looks, or weird looks.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:35 AM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I give people the stink-eye when they park their shopping cart in the middle of the aisle, regardless of their body shape. I would so sneer at this women if she set up a camera on a tripod in the middle of busy thoroughfares. I'm hard pressed to pick out one where it looks absolutely, without a doubt, like someone is making fun or staring in horror at her body shape.
posted by Kokopuff at 11:40 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Bunny Ultramod, I bet I can find several photos you took where a person in the background of your shot might or might not be looking or not looking at you, with disgust or with happiness, or pain because of a pebble in their shoe, laughing at you or laughing at something someone just said or did other than you...
posted by Kokopuff at 11:42 AM on April 15, 2013


By the way, she's actually commented on whether or not people are looking at her because of her weight:

Morris-Cafiero, who is currently the head of the Photography Department at Memphis College of Art, said she has mixed feelings about the basis of strangers' reactions. "I think some people are just reacting to the way I look. And I do think some people are reacting to me being photographed... I don't presume that they all think I'm fat. But at the same time, for that one little fraction of a second, there's a physical reaction to me doing what I'm doing."

So we may be exaggerating the import of her weight to passers-by in this series of photos. Her self-portraiture tends to focus on her as a fat person in specific environments, with punning titles based on weight. This is not a science experiment, or a sociological profile. It's a self-portrait series in which people are responding to the subject of the photo.
posted by Bunny Ultramod at 11:43 AM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


Seems to me that in a number of these it's arguable that anyone is looking at her at all.

I'm kind of curious why those photos are included. Does she think the people are looking at her? Did she include them because of their ambiguity?
posted by asnider at 11:52 AM on April 15, 2013


Bunny Ultramod, you say this isn't a science experiment, but Morris-Cafiero says in your link: "I consider this a social experiment." And that's the problem. There's some token caginess about whether she's actually saying that people are looking at her because of her weight, but just about everybody who reads what she has to say about the project, the title of the project, and the framing of the project in media can see that there's clearly a factual claim being made here. She's using this artistic medium to make a claim that many people see as outside the bounds where art can make claims.
posted by daveliepmann at 12:00 PM on April 15, 2013


"However you feel about whether or not you can draw conclusions about this project, taking pictures of people without asking is still asinine. HELLO STRANGER YOU GET TO BE ON THE INTERNET WITH A WEIRD EXPRESSION BECAUSE I WANT TO MAKE A POINT!"

Nah, honestly, if you're in public, you're in public, and that moment you picked your nose might end up on the internet. No expectation of privacy in the panopticon. Doesn't excuse creepers, but if the requirement was to ask first, there'd be next to no street photography at all.

"I set up tripods, get photos taken, take photos of myself, etc., regularly and in public places, and I dress pretty weird. I have never gotten these sorts of reactions. There is literally not a single shot of people giving me curious looks, or weird looks."

Really? I make all sorts of weird faces and gestures to photobomb people taking pictures in public (despite being a frequent street photographer myself). I always hope they get a chuckle out of it when they look at the photos later.
posted by klangklangston at 12:01 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


It's a self-portrait series in which people are responding to the subject of the photo.

...or responding to someone obviously photographing themselves with a tripod in a public place.
posted by DWRoelands at 12:21 PM on April 15, 2013


Nah, honestly, if you're in public, you're in public, and that moment you picked your nose might end up on the internet. No expectation of privacy in the panopticon. Doesn't excuse creepers, but if the requirement was to ask first, there'd be next to no street photography at all.

Generally I agree, but if someone is painting YOU in a negative light without your permission I think you would feel a bit differently. Someone trying to get on with life and happening to glance over at just the right time to be considered a fat basher is not the same as someone who just happened to be in a street picture.

This could be incredibly offensive to them.
posted by Malice at 12:21 PM on April 15, 2013


One of the big topics in sociology is to figure out what, how, and why people think something is "okay" or not. I wouldn't file this under experiment, although social psychologist stage experiments just like this, but I do think it is interesting that she is attempting to capture a moment where people are possibly making such a judgment. It would have been really easy for her to stage something to get a lot of attention but I appreciate that she didn't. I think if people take a minute and just look at these without worrying about "OMGPHATS" then there is a bit to sift through.
posted by P.o.B. at 12:47 PM on April 15, 2013


The fact that so many people have a defensive reaction to these photos is, I think, telling. What makes you feel the need to defend strangers like that? I can only imagine that it's because you know you look at fat people in public this way too.

Of course, it's possible that not every one of these photos is of a reaction to her weight, but I don't doubt that many of them are exactly what she believes they are. I'm a little bit fat, but smaller than her, and I have the same feeling she has that people sometimes stare or laugh at me because of my size and looks. And indeed, this was confirmed when I spent time living in a country where people generally assumed, based on my race, that I did not speak the local language (I do). More than once, people talked about how ugly and fat I was while standing beside me at street lights or passing me on the street. It was an unpleasant experience, but also affirming. Knowing that these reactions to me really do exist, knowing that I'm not just paranoid and this is really happening, makes me feel better in a way.

I really enjoyed the photographs.
posted by snorkmaiden at 1:27 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that so many people have a defensive reaction to these photos is, I think, telling. What makes you feel the need to defend strangers like that? I can only imagine that it's because you know you look at fat people in public this way too.

This kind of argument is really weak. I don't "feel a need to defend" anyone; this is a place for discussion, one natural thing to discuss about this art is whether it's making the point that the artist claims it is. I don't think trying to police people's responses to her art by accusing anyone who disagrees with the artist of gawking at fat people does anything productive.

And honestly if "defensive anti-fatties" is the only explanation you can imagine for why people would argue about something pointless on the internet, you need to expand the scope of your imagination.
posted by Bulgaroktonos at 1:39 PM on April 15, 2013 [10 favorites]


I am quite sure someone will attack me for fat-shaming here. But my main thought upon looking at these photos was "huh, yeah, she sure is fat, she should maybe try getting more exercise and less food in her life".

I know it's more complicated than that with all kinds of complicated psychological stuff going on under the surface. But that's what goes through my mind.

Honestly something along those lines goes through my mind a lot whenever I'm visiting almost anywhere in the South; I probably think that every ten minutes when I'm visiting my hometown of New Orleans and wandering around the city. I can tell which airport terminal I need to go to solely by the higher incidence of fat people.

As a transwoman, I'm also pretty familiar with the oh god is everyone looking at me because I'm a freak mindset, so if this is her way of dispelling it, that's awesome for her.
posted by egypturnash at 2:47 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


The fact that so many people have a defensive reaction to these photos is, I think, telling. What makes you feel the need to defend strangers like that? I can only imagine that it's because you know you look at fat people in public this way too.

Back when I was getting my MFA there were a number of students who appeared to be treating the arts program as an extended personal therapy session. Their pieces tended to be heavy on concept and light on execution. It was difficult to give them constructive feedback, as they tended to take any critique of the quality of their work as either a criticism of them personally or as denial of the (often quite genuinely awful) traumas and experiences they were working out through their art. I think most of them would have been better served by spending their tuition money on an actual therapist instead. Certainly the gallery visitors would have been.

I have to agree with cribcage above: there's an interesting concept in here somewhere, and with a lot more shooting and a lot more careful selection of the images presented it could have been made to work. But the execution here just fails. There are maybe two or three keepers here but they're undercut by being grouped with so many unremarkable shots of people sort of vaguely looking in her general direction, possibly.

Shorter: just because it's true doesn't mean it's art.
posted by ook at 3:09 PM on April 15, 2013 [8 favorites]


And honestly if "defensive anti-fatties" is the only explanation you can imagine for why people would argue about something pointless on the internet, you need to expand the scope of your imagination.

Luckily for us both, you're as much of a jerk as I am.
posted by liketitanic at 3:30 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


I can't help but think of Beauty and the Beast: "Look there she goes that girl is strange, no question..."

I don't have the weight issues so much, but I do dress weird. I...just ignore people's funny looks. Screw 'em.
posted by jenfullmoon at 4:56 PM on April 15, 2013


Judge these people who appear to be judging me based on my appearance!!!
posted by smithsmith at 5:40 PM on April 15, 2013 [2 favorites]


"But the execution here just fails."

Yeah, she notes in her description that she just takes these straight from the film or digital without any retouching, and since there's other stuff on her site that shows she does have technical chops, it's just like, Why?
posted by klangklangston at 6:17 PM on April 15, 2013 [1 favorite]


...and yet, the MeFi comments seem to prove the premise implied by the photos. Very spooky, if you ask me.

The punch line goes: not if I have to tell the damned joke five times.

Okay, I admit it: I watch paint fade in my spare time.
posted by mule98J at 8:18 PM on April 15, 2013


The fact that so many people have a defensive reaction to these photos is, I think, telling.

That makes as much sense as assuming you must be fat if you like her pictures.
posted by pracowity at 1:18 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


...and yet, the MeFi comments seem to prove the premise implied by the photos. Very spooky, if you ask me.

How, exactly? The majority opinion seems to be that (at least amongst urban MeFites) they would give anyone that look if they were randomly taking pictures of themselves with a tripod camera in a public setting, which is unusual in of itself, to say nothing of standing in the middle of a busy sidewalk, or sitting on a child's swing with a extremely depressed look on their face, or posed awkwardly (staring at the back of a bus stop? WTF?); all for a number of reasons having nothing to do with weight. That makes it seem like she's coming to conclusions based on pre-conceived notions of herself rather than revealing something about everyone around her.
posted by zombieflanders at 5:44 AM on April 16, 2013 [2 favorites]


The majority of the people in the images appear to be not even mildly annoyed that someone stopped in the middle of a busy pedestrian thoroughfare. The scowls that I bear toward people who do the same would burn the image permanently into the CCD of her camera. Humans, 1; Xoebe, 0. Thank you, humanity.

Sure there appear to be a couple of people chuckling or glaring slightly more intently than is appropriate for a public space, but this is hardly the condemnation of human character I expected. And its entirely possible that people may be chuckling at something else, or glaring for reasons that aren't immediately obvious.

Throw in some confirmation bias, cherry pick the images, and you have an internet project.

This reminds me of a thought I had one day. Think of the hundreds - thousands - of people you walk past at the mall, in a day. The grocery store. The post office. School. Work. On your way to lunch. The bus. The subway. A train. The people who sit next to you at a stop light. How many thousands of people do we cross paths with in one day? Now imagine that at one person said something offensive to you, *every single day*. Every day you hear how fat you are, or how pale, or how ethnic, whatever. Every. Single. Day. You would eventually think that most people are dirty rotten bastards, racists, haters.

But think how many people aren't haters. Most people come into momentary contact with thousands of people in a day. One obnoxious person out of thousands says what maybe a handful even think, and we wind up convinced the entire human race is a bunch of prejudiced dirtbags.

Everyone knows the jokes, everyone knows the epithets, it's no secret. Most people don't really care about other people. Most people recognize their own feelings of rejection of other people and choose not to act on them, to understand the shame of their own reaction to seeing someone with an "other" condition. It's not even that a large minority of people are okay, decent people - the vast majority of people are decent enough.

Look at the images again. We talk about the people who look like they are momentarily inconvenienced - but look at all the other people who aren't giving the subject a second glance.

Perhaps the worst common characteristic in humans is our indifference. The malice, not so much. Thank God.
posted by Xoebe at 8:22 AM on April 16, 2013 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I think that's natural -- to remember the horrible things people say and not the people who do nothing.

I can remember in visceral detail what it was like to sit next to someone on a plane who demanded she be moved because I was too fat. What it was like to be called fat on a bus by someone who assumed I didn't speak her language. Even what it was like to be offered a seat by someone who assumed I was pregnant -- a nice gesture, in theory, except I wasn't, just fat.

But of course, I've ridden the bus thousands of times and taken dozens of airplane trips and those things represent a teeny tiny fraction of the encounters I've had with people out in public.
posted by jacquilynne at 8:59 AM on April 16, 2013


the constant war against ambiguity in art threads is ridiculously tiresome.

Discussing what we see in the photos (and disagreeing with what the photographer says she sees) is not a war against ambiguity. It's kind of the whole point of ambiguity.

You're like someone saying, "I don't know why people are expressing negative opinions when all I wanted to do was start a discussion!"
posted by straight at 12:42 PM on April 16, 2013 [3 favorites]


I used to be quite horrifyingly thin, and people in the street did stare and make comments about my appearance fairly often, to the point that I still get pretty paranoid whenever I hear laughter in public places.

I complained to a friend about this and they pointed out that, while I was indeed quite horrifyingly thin, the comments from strangers might also have something to do with the fact that my look at the time could fairly be described as 'Futuristic Gay Dental Assistant'.

So, yeah, I think I have a fair idea of what's going on in these pictures.

Back when I was getting my MFA there were a number of students who appeared to be treating the arts program as an extended personal therapy session.

I saw so much therapybibble shitart at degree shows that I started using the acronym AQUA (for 'Artist Quite Upset About') in my notes, as in AQUA Mother's Decision Not to Breastfeed, AQUA Eating Too Many Biscuits, &c., &c..
posted by jack_mo at 1:29 PM on April 16, 2013 [8 favorites]


It looked like most of the people in her photos either weren't even looking at her. Or if they were, it wasn't necessarily because of her size -- some of them looked like they were feeling sheepish about walking in front of a person who was about to take a picture, or like they were just idly glancing at her. I mean, I people-watch all the time. And if someone is stopped in the middle of a busy sidewalk messing around with a camera or a map or whatever, I might give them an annoyed look... or I might look at them because I'm wondering if I can help them find whatever they're looking for on the map... or I might be thinking that I like their shoes. You never know. (And I'm bigger than her, and rarely notice people staring at me or anything. I'm not saying it doesn't happen, I just haven't noticed it directed at me so much. I might just be oblivious, though.)
posted by sarcasticah at 3:08 PM on April 16, 2013


The punch line goes: not if I have to tell the damned joke five times.

Okay, I admit it: I watch paint fade in my spare time.


I've really been trying to just let this go, but it keeps bothering me that I have no idea what you're talking about. What are you talking about? Is it a euphemism of some sort?
posted by ook at 4:23 PM on April 16, 2013


An interview with the artist in Salon.
posted by TedW at 11:30 AM on April 24, 2013 [1 favorite]


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