In collaboration with Slate's photo blog, Behold, we are extending the conversation with some of their featured photographers.
When Haley Morris-Cafiero’s series “Wait Watchers” went viral, it quickly set out to do what she intended: open up a dialog about the ways in which we perceive one another. Cafiero’s self-portraits of strangers looking at her (she allows interpretation of the glances up to the viewer) are provocative. When the series took off, Cafiero felt the critique of the series would revolve mostly around the quality of the photographs. Instead, although many comments were positive, many were negative, attacking Cafiero’s weight, appearance, clothing choices and lack of makeup. Her intention to begin a conversation about body image partially morphed into a conversation about the darker side of the Internet, one fueled by anger she feels is the product of invented – and anonymous – personas. After meeting with Mary Ann Camilleri, the Magenta Foundation published her work, along with many of the comments, titled The Watchers. We caught up with Cafiero to find out what it was like to make and publish a photo book.
You will find some extra Q&A below and can read the original Slate interview here.
How did the opportunity to work with Magenta come about?
I met with the Director and Founder of the Magenta Foundation, Mary Ann Camilleri, at the 2012 Fotofest portfolio reviews. I think I met with her at another portfolio review, but I definitely met her again at the Fotofest in 2014. She gave me excellent feedback the first time we met and she saw how the project had progressed over the two years between our meetings. When I met with her the second time, I told her about my plan to self publish a book as I could not find a good fit with a publisher. At the end of our meeting, she offered to collaborate on a book. We did a kickstarter and raised the funds and it took off from there.
What were the biggest challenges you faced while working on the book? Both before, during and after the process.
The first challenge was the kickstarter campaign. I was doing the campaign a year and a half after the project went viral, so I knew that people had seen the project, but I didn't know if they would support it financially. I then contacted all of the media sites that ran a story on the project and asked them to run a follow-up about the kickstarter. I was surprised and grateful that so many shared the project and the campaign. I think that exposure is what helped me reach my funding goal.
Between the kickstarter and the time of publication, I had to make new images. Lots of them. So many of the images had been on the internet, and I knew that you can't have a book if the images primarily live online. So I did a significant amount of traveling to photograph new images - all while juggling a full time job and media opportunities.
After the book was published and delivered, the hardest thing was sending out the kickstarter rewards. I know that sounds simple, but I live in a small house with no studio and way too many animals to set out tables and create an assembly line for packing and mailing. I bartered with people so they would help me, and I spent many days in line at the post office sending out books.
How did the translation of your work from something that was seen online to a book form influence the ways in which you decided to continue with the project?
I am very lucky to have worked with Mary Ann and her team (Julien Beaupre Ste-Marie was the editor and the Office of Gilbert Li designed it), because we were on the same page with the design from the beginning. The team knew that I had started archiving the hateful comments and inspirational messages that I received through emails and in the comment section of the online articles. So when it came time to design the book, we knew that the way to present the images in a unique experience from how they were shown online was to incorporate the comments into the narrative of the book. To do that we made the cover plush and squishy. The front cover has positive messages debossed into the surface and the back cover has a similar treatment but with negative comments. The liner pages present the comments compiled together. Then there are several spreads throughout the book where we neutralized the negative, bullying comments with the positive, inspirational messages. While the comments do not have anything to do with the images, they provides the reader with the environment wherein the project was created and how people interpret the gaze.