Review by Gerhard Clausing •
Bullying seems to be the main manifestation of a new disease that is marked by an inability to accept the fact that we are all different, in appearance, thought, and heritage. With the highest office of the US occupied by one who sets a bad example in this regard, is it any wonder that some are even more cowardly and try to exploit the anonymity of the internet to hurl insults at those who are not like themselves. These emotional verbal attacks have increased to the point of constituting a pandemic of their own, even aided by foreign governments to sway the citizenry into discord and strife. Well, here’s a newsflash: a lack of tolerance points to the hurler’s own limitations and shortcomings. Surprise for them: the attackers are not perfect either.
Haley Morris-Cafiero experienced cyber-bullying regarding a previous project that showed others looking at her on the street in uncomplimentary ways. Many hundreds hurled verbal insults at her, and phrased these comments in rather crude and callous terms. Well, her response was to seek out the bullies and their slogans on the internet, study each bully’s own appearance, and then create responses in photographing herself in a kind of perpetrator cosplay, creating roles in which she mimics and mocks both their appearance and insults, and treating them to a re-creation of their bully personae, with all their own features and nasty epithets included – even quoting their faulty grammar and orthography verbatim.
Morris-Cafiero’s photographic narrative reminds me a bit of Martin Parr, who also has a humorous and at times sarcastic view of the world and his role in it, which I reviewed here. But in her case the approach is extremely personal and therefore has an ad hoc focus, directed at very specific issues and expressions. Humor works best when it exaggerates things somewhat, so the artist in this case enlarges certain bodily features in the staged photographs: she adds phony chests and other body parts made of plastic and inflated materials, prosthetic devices that clearly are over the top, and various props, pets, and bystanders. The resulting images make her point very clear: trying to shame a person for their appearance and/or imagined deviations from a supposed norm is simply absurd. You might become a target yourself.
The specific approach of this photobook is very much enhanced by the way it is printed and bound. The images cover each entire double page in full bleed, thus making each visual 12 by 18 inches (or 30 by 45 cm), or the reverse for the horizontal ones. Thus each image is the size of a mini-poster, making a very clear in-your-face statement. The open “Swiss” binding is a “lay-flat” approach, thus allowing you to see every part of each picture, as I am showing below. The essay by Emma Lewis provides further interesting details about the project.
So here simple-minded aggression meets theatrical comedy in a very effective manner. Congratulations to Haley Morris-Cafiero for her creative solution to a ubiquitous problem. “Shooting with intent” has never been more full of purpose.
Haley Morris-Cafiero – The Bully Pulpit
Photographer: Haley Morris-Cafiero (born in Atlanta, Georgia; currently lives in Belfast, Ireland)
Publisher: Fall Line Press, Atlanta, Georgia, USA; © 2019
Essay: Emma Lewis
Hardback with fabric cover; open Swiss binding; 64 pages, unpaginated, with 25 large color images; 9.25 x 12 inches ( 23.5 x 30.5 cm); printed and bound in Spain by SYL, Barcelona
Articles and photographs published in the PhotoBook Journal may not be reproduced without the permission of the PhotoBook Journal staff and the photographer(s).