Haley Morris-Cafiero

I came across the work of Haley Morris-Cafiero from her Instagram account and her series ‘The Bully Pulpit‘ immediately resonated with me because of its strong opposition and defiance to online bullying and trolling. On her website she describes herself as “Part performer, part artist, part spectator” and concerned with exploring the act of reflection in her photography.”

Wait Watchers:

For this series, Morris-Cafiero set up a camera in a public space and photographed herself completing mundane tasks while passersby moved around her. She then selected images in which the strangers in the frame displayed a critical or questioning elements in their face or body language. From her artist statement, she has this to say about the series:

“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. 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.”

‘Wait Watchers’ straddles many genres of photography, one of the attractions of the series is how it is difficult to define, something acknowledged by Morris-Cafiero who describes it as “technically street photography, documentary, self-portrait, conceptual and guerilla all at once.” (Cirla, s.d.) Asked if she was enraged or hurt by the response of the strangers she captures in her photographs, Morris-Cafiero says she had the opposite reaction:

“From the beginning, I was excited when I found an image as I am always surprised at how a camera can freeze an ephemeral moment that lasts only a microsecond. Every time I got a successful image I was motivated to shoot more.

I use humour to de-weaponise the aspects of an image that have the potential to hurt other people…I have learned that my ability to laugh at hateful reactions is true and deep – it’s not just a mindset that I tried to position for myself. If you think that someone will attack you, you like to believe you would be able to defend yourself, but until it happens, you never really know for sure. Now I know. I can handle it and respond to it in a witty and insightful way.” (Cresswell, 2018)

The Bully Pulpit:

This series is a direct response to the cyberbullying and body-shaming Morris-Cafiero experienced after ‘Wait Watchers’ went viral online. She found photographs of the bullies online and then recreated their images and overlayered transcripts of the bullying comments in the frame in an attempt to challenge the fallacy that the internet will shield their identities. From her artist statement, she makes this point about her motivations:

“instead of responding to “deaf ears”, I realize that I can parody the bullies attempts by creating images and publishing them on the internet – the same vehicle used for their attacks – and the images would be seen by millions, and would live again, again, and again.”

Diane Smyth (2019) says this about the series:

“By using her critics’ words, Morris-Cafiero allows their behaviour to speak for itself; in the costumes she constructed, though, she allowed herself a dose of irony. Deliberately rough, verging on the grotesque, her costumes allude to “the false sense of protection that the internet provides these and other bullies” but also give a physical manifestation of the ugliness of their words – and, hopefully, give the viewer a laugh while encouraging them to think all this through.

“As I am interested in addressing difficult subjects in my work, I use humour to neutralise some of that negativity” says Morris-Cafiero. For Bully Pulpit, I wanted humour to be present in the photos because I always laugh when I receive or read one of these comments. I think it is such a waste of their time and electricity to write a comment that they think will hurt me stop what I am doing.” (Smyth, 2019)

Challenging the supposed anonymity of the internet and the power of the mob is a key point of the work with Morris-Cafiero believing few would have the courage to say the comments made to her online in person. Featuring the text in the images is not just a visual strategy but a practical one as comments can be deleted from the internet but images cannot so her response will be available online forever. In an interview, she explians this further:

“I wanted to out-smart and out-wit the people who were attacking me. It would have been easy to publish their names, addresses etc. but that would have been easy. We would have looked at the information and then reacted and then move on. But by taking advantage of the fact that they do not own their likeness, I am using it to amplify my voice. Their constructed image is very important to these people and I am using it to show the world what they say about me – and others.” (Cirla, s.d.)

Links:

Bibliography:

Angelos, A. (2019) Haley Morris-Cafiero parodies her body-shaming bullies. Feature Shoot. Available at: https://www.featureshoot.com/2019/06/haley-morris-cafiero-parodies-her-body-shaming-bullies/ (accessed 8th July 2020)

Cirla, G. (s.d.) Haley Morris-Cafiero. PHROOM. Available at: https://phroommagazine.com/haley-morris-cafiero/

Cresswell, J. (2018) Wait Watchers: this photographer documented reactions to her weight. Refinery 29. Available at: https://www.refinery29.com/en-gb/wait-watchers-haley-morris-cafiero (accessed 8th July 2020)

Smyth, D. (2019) Haley Morris-Cafiero’s The Bully Pulpit. British Journal of Photography. Available at: https://www.bjp-online.com/2019/04/haley-morris-cafieros-the-bully-pulpit/ (accessed 8th July 2020)

Wykes, J. (2013) That one isolated moment: an interview with Haley Morris-Cafiero. No More Pot Lucks. Available at: http://nomorepotlucks.org/site/that-one-isolated-moment-an-interview-with-haley-morris-cafiero-jackie-wykes/ (accessed 8th July 2020)

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