When Haley Morris-Cafiero set out to take a photograph of herself in Time Square, she didn't know what she captured on film at that time would launch her into a four-year viral project that has stirred up conversations about how people look at each other.
While sitting on red bleachers in New York City, ankles crossed in front of her, the trained photographer's self-portrait was meant to be about herself in space, not about anyone else, she told TheBlaze in a phone interview Tuesday.
When she developed the film — yes, developed, as in the old-fashioned way — Morris-Cafiero saw a man, who was having his own picture taken, looking down on her with a seemingly sneering face. At least that's how Morris-Cafiero interpreted his gaze.
This photograph "got me thinking about the gaze and how we look at one another and how we interpret that look ... and judge ourselves," Morris-Cafiero said.
Since that picture, the associate professor at Memphis College of Art has been taking self-portraits and capturing the looks that people seem to give her in "Wait Watchers." Last year, some of her images went viral and more recently Morris-Cafiero established an already successful Kickstarter campaign that will fund a book of her work and upcoming exhibitions in Paris and Boston.
"Our identity has been completely embedded in our image," Morris-Cafiero said. "I can stand in for anyone who feels outside of society's norms. It's not just about weight: It's about the clothes I'm wearing, the color of my hair. I got an email from someone who said I was too white."
Though her intention with the project is to spur conversations about humans and their gaze and make people realize how they look at each other, Morris-Cafiero said she has received messages from others inspired by her work who no longer are going to commit suicide or who now feel like they can function in society.
"Some of the messages I get are just so guttural," she said.
"Her ability to draw attention to global issues about weight, fat shaming and other issues related to body identity is tremendously deserving of your support," John Feinstein, co-founder of the Humble Arts Foundation, said in Morris-Cafiero's Kickstarter video.
Watch the video about Morris-Cafiero's project to make a book on her work, which had a goal of raising $15,000 but, as of the time of this posting, reached more than $18,000 with over two weeks of funding left:
Doesn't seeing picture after picture of people apparently judging her weight affect her own psyche, even though that's the reason she's putting herself out there?
"I don't care in the least. It just comes from loving my body and that happened between high school and college," she said, noting that it took many years of hate before she was able to love herself.