Fat shaming unfortunately continues to be a socially acceptable form of bigotry around the world. For the past 4 years, photographer Haley Morris-Cafiero has responded to this photographically, turning the hateful comments, glances and gestures into impactful self-portraits. Morris works with an assistant in large crowds, capturing strangers as they mock her and uses her camera to reverse the power they may think they have.
Last year, Morris-Cafiero’s work went viral through dedicated articles on Salon, Huffington Post, Feature Shoot, Lens Scratch and other high traffic blogs. While much of the response was positive, she received numerous disparaging comments, in many cases verbalizing the hateful gestures captured in her initial photographs. Instead of letting this slow her down, Morris-Cafeiro used the comments to create new images in 2014, allowing her to have the last laugh. The Magenta Foundation will publish a monograph of the series this coming year.
Morris Cafiero is currently raising funds via Kickstarter, which we encourage our readers to support.
In support of the project, we caught up with Morris-Cafiero to learn more.
Humble Arts Foundation: You've received a great deal of positive response to your work, but there has also a swarm of hateful comments from online trolls. How did these comments influence the most recent work in the series?
Haley Morris Cafiero: Before my photographs were written up last year, I had read the occasional comment section and got angry at the world. But when the commenters started talking about how ugly my face, my body and my clothes are, it made me laugh hysterically. I know that is a strange reaction, but to think that someone wastes their time to write something that has no influence on how I think about myself is hilarious. So when so many of the commenters said that I needed to 'lose weight and get a make over,' that was the visual cue for what I needed to do next in my photos. In the original photos I was the "everyday girl passively doing everyday things." Now I will respond by happily engaging in what they want me to do to improve myself to see if I am surrounded by what could be called critical or questioning gazes. They are more costumed (I don't wear spandex) and I take on a role of being happy while trying to make myself better.
HAF: What was the most positive or moving response you have received so far?
HMC: I have received quite a few really deep and almost private/confessional messages of support from people. But probably the most recent impact was this one:
"I have been really depressed lately and I was crying about something completely unrelated as I read about your inspiring stop fat-shaming campaign. Your pictures highlight a huge societal issue of epic proportions but the fact that you have the courage to do what you do is amazing and it made me feel so much better. I can't say I relate as a 125 lb. 16 year old male high school junior, but I can have compassion for the cause. Also, despite what society may say, you are beautiful and I don't say that without meaning. Anyway, thanks for cheering me up! "
I don't know if its because of his age or his honesty, but it just made realize how what I do can impact someone. That was never the goal when I started 4 yeas ago, but if my photographs can help someone miles away when they are feeling low, I am honored and fueled to do more. His message made me see myself when I was a 16 year old and hating myself.
HAF: That's amazing. You've made pictures in various locations in the United States, as well as abroad. Do you notice any differences in peoples reactions/ expressions in your photographs?
HMC: Yes! For at least 3 years when I was photographing, I would never catch the gaze of any young women age 15-25ish. At least 5 times while shooting, I have heard young women make fun of me. No question. But when I look at the images, the young women look like they are talking to their friend. So when I started traveling to countries where English is not the native language, I started capturing more of that age group. It may be coincidental, but it was definitely a trend that I noticed.
HAF: How did the book project come about?
HMC: When I saw the impact that the images had on people, I knew that the project needed to be a book. Most of the people who reacted so strongly to the images will not see them in a gallery or a museum and seeing them online doesn't give a personal experience. If they are printed in a book, then people can hold the images and see them they way that I intend them to be seen.
I am thrilled to be working with the Magenta Foundation on this book as they share the same vision that I have. When I first met Maryann Camilleri at FotoFest in 2012, she gave me excellent feedback that really pushed me and the work to a good direction.
HAF: Are you continuing to make new images for this series?
HMC: I am going to shooting new images until April of next year. I am happy with what I have, but I always want to push the envelope to see what else is to be had. My entire project hinges on timing and I need to give timing as many opportunities as possible to deliver.
Bio: Haley Morris-Cafiero holds a BA in Photography and a BFA in Ceramics from the University of North Florida and a MFA in Art from University of Arizona. She is an Assistant Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Memphis College of Art. Her series of photographs, Wait Watchers, has been featured in over 40 sites all over the world including CBS This Morning, Huffington Post and Salon.com. She has was a finalist for the Prix Virginia & Renaissance Prize the series was exhibited in the Chicago Photography Center and the Newspace Center of Photography in 2014.