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Wait…Who is Watching Whom?

By R. Darden Bradshaw, Assistant Professor, Art Education

The compendium of photographs and text in the exhibition Wait Watchers, on view through March 22, 2018 at the Radial Gallery in Fitz Hall spans a five-year journey in Haley Morris-Cafiero’s artistic career. These self-portraits come together to boldly incite us to question the relationship of social media, the gaze as a means of oppression, and the manner in which we feel comfortable critiquing one another through media.

A performative-photographer, Morris-Cafiero positions her camera in public spaces – shopping malls, near tourist sites, and in commercial locales. Within a short span of time, usually ranging from one to five minutes, she takes photos of herself engaging in normal acts of life (eating gelato, talking on the phone, walking along the beach, etc) as others pass her by. The camera, which Haley sets for focus and timing, is not hidden but is situated around the neck of an assistant or on another individuals’ back. When not using an automatic timer, Haley gives her assistant a signal to press the shutter button. In the resulting photographs she captures curious glances, sneers, and other expressions of the public’s unsolicited judgements of her. Morris-Cafiero’s work invites us to reexamine the ways in which desire and the gaze have been culturally conditioned and our sense of license to take another’s inventory.

In February 2013, after a few of the early images from this series were features in Lenscratch, a photo-world blog, there followed a series of stories in Huffington Post and the UK Daily Mail. As a result of this publicity, people began freely commenting about Morris-Cafiero and her images. These personally attacking, often hateful comments as well as those of encouragement and support became an added layer through which we enter into Morris-Cafiero’s work. In this exhibition, the comments are juxtaposed with the images to invite us to discourse – about photography, social media, stereotypes, body image, and the gaze.

Sizism is one space of oppression in which many in our culture feel justified in attacking and belitting people. Examining normative culture’s expectations placed upon the female body, one has to inquire if the response to the images would be as violent or as cruel were the subject of the photographs a larger male? Wait Watchers invites us to question the ways our notions of gender, femininity, and the overtly male gaze toward the female body been culturally conditioned and reinforced.

The exhibition, which is free and open to the public, continues through March 22, 2018 in Radial Gallery on the second floor of Fitz Hall.


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