Wait Watchers is a social experiment that shows how strangers react to overweight people they see on the street.
When photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero was taking a self-portrait in Times Square, she noticed a man staring at her instead of focusing on posing for his own picture. As he continued looking at her for some more time, the artist from Memphis, Tennessee, realized that she was being judged by him for her appearance. "I’ve heard people make comments on my weight, but I never thought I’d be able to capture that on film," she told an outlet. Intrigued by this reaction, the photographer decided to further explore such situations where she clicks pictures of herself in an uncomfortable environment. This gave rise to a project called "Wait Watchers," a social experiment where a series of photos show how strangers react to overweight people they see on their way.
To create this book of photographs (which contains both negative and positive comments from people) Morris-Cafiero would go to different public places, set up her camera on a tripod, and pose in a manner she thought was interesting but normal - like eating ice cream or talking on the phone. During none of these shoots did she dress up in a manner that would provoke a reaction from people or attract their attention. "For my series, Wait Watchers, I set up a camera in a public area and photograph the scene as I perform mundane tasks while strangers pass by me. 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," she writes on her website.
"The project is a performative form of street photography. I place the camera on a tripod and take hundreds of photographs. The resulting images capture the gazer in a microsecond moment where the shutter, the scene, my actions, and their body language align and are frozen on the frame. I do not know what the people in my photographs are looking at or reacting to. I present the images to the world to start a conversation about the gaze and how we use it to communicate our thoughts of others," the statement continued. After publishing the pictures, Morris-Cafiero was flooded with responses urging her to start exercising and putting in more effort while dressing up. Some even suggested that she puts on makeup to avoid the unnecessary look people gave her.
She was inspired to conduct another experiment, but this time she did exactly what she was asked to do, unfortunately, the reactions remained the same. Morris-Cafiero, who suffers from Hypothyroidism, had struggled with eating disorders in the past. However, she claimed that the project was not made with the intention of hurting anyone. "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," she shared.
Speaking about the negative and hurtful comments she received, Morris-Cafiero said, "I know that comment sections are a haven for people to be cruel, but I think it is hilarious for people to waste their time tell me their opinion of me. I don't care what anyone thinks about me. I love the way that I look," according to Daily Mail. The interesting strings of photographs did stir up some controversy as many did not agree with her views. Although all the pictures uploaded by her show people glancing at her, no one can say for sure if they are mocking and judging her or simply looking at her. Some people suggested that people may simply be curious about the camera set up and what the woman was up to. Thus, it totally up to the viewers to decide what their gaze actually meant. Take a look at the pictures and decide for yourself.
@rgay I am a huge fan and am I a photographer who did the Wait Watchers project and am working on a new project and I need your help. May I please discuss my idea with you in a private message? I promise that it won't take much of your time. Thanks xx pic.twitter.com/VY6AlM1qrL— Haley Morris-Cafiero (@hmorriscafiero) August 27, 2018
Check out her website for more pictures.