A few weeks back, a guy, Stephen Schuster, who is a second year in my grad program installed a series of re-photographed posters of celebrities. He used only images of their eyes, very up close and very grained, almost as though they were zoomed in on a still from a surveillance camera. Nayland made the point that we do not maintain eye contact on the subway, unless that eye contact comes along with a subliminal reminder to make sure and watch Dr. Oz this Thursday evening.That simple remark sparked my interest in an even simpler experiment: subway staring. The premise is, of course, simple. I stare at someone's eyes, whether they are looking at me or not, and when they look at me I continue to look at them. The staring ends when that person gets off the subway, or when a dialogue is engaged by them asking me why I am staring. I usually hope for dialogue.
Here are my initial observations:
I am very vulnerable doing this because I feel as I'm opening my entire soul for that person.
I only gravitate towards women--perhaps for safety reasons.
I feel like these women think I'm creepy, crazy, confused, a perpetrator, offensive, nosy, evil-intentioned, schizophrenic or annoying.
I can't help but feel romantic towards those who I stare at
Staring at someone in a crowded subway can be more or less potent than staring at someone when it is uncrowded.
Because I did not want to be construed as creepy, crazy, confused, nosy, evil-intentioned, schizophrenic or annoying, I try to hold a space for these woman to be who they are in my eyes, a mission which I find valuable because I'm not sure that these women are ever seen for what they are. This seems problematic. How do I make this just staring without all these other assumptions?
The mission of holding a space for women dates back to my late teens when I wanted to be every woman's hero, and is a vastly problematic projection. Clearly I cannot be that person. How do I just bear witness for the sake of bearing witness?
I engaged a dialogue between myself and a woman who looked kinda artsy. I figured since she was staring back at me that she was confused. Eventually I broke the stare and asked her what she thought. She said she was a bit uncomfortable and confused, but that she stares at people too sometimes. We agreed staring feels so intense when you don't know anything about the person, and you sort of know everything about the person in that moment. You can watch them eat, or zone into every tick and twitch on their face and fall in love without emotions or attachment. I find that I have an issue with imposing. But even if I am imposing and I can convince the other people that its okay, if I'm not viewed as an imposition, its okay. Even if my energy remains imposing.
This exercise turns me onto a sense that in life I'm constantly afraid of being misconstrued--because I am a perpetrator in many regards. Many of my nightlife images find their worth in the notion that the images are not about my subject, they are about me, so it doesn't matter if the image slanders the other person--because it's not really that person. Yet the realization that I have to remember that people have memories of faces, of what people do, and other people assign stories and identities to these seemingly anonymous pictures, and it does have some effect on other people's lives. Although I question the validity of the effect--who cares if your mom disowns you for something you did? You did it. That's between you and her, not me.....Yet I'm afraid of being misconstrued? Wow.
Apparently a belief that the subject of the image is not tied to the image can be a very reckless way to think; it does not really involve any empathy.
Anyways, after the conversation with the lady (or really the conversation with myself), she got off the train and I gave her an awkward hug. I have absolutely no idea why.
I'm curious too about accountability. I'm staring at this woman whose shirt says "World's Greatest Mom," or something to that effect and I immediately think about how I don't want to stare at her because she's a mom and doesn't need this tonight.
But then I wonder, shouldn't we hold anyone accountable for existence?" What gives one person the right to withdraw and holds another to the responsibility of maintaining a gaze?
Another lady, I stared at her for 20 minutes. She didn't notice once, but she looked like she was remembering things that made her happy and angry. Then eventually I raised my big ass fucking obtrusive camera, and she glared at me and told me that I should ask first. I wanted to tell the lady I'd been staring at her for 20 minutes, but I didn't.
I've laid out things to say when someone asks me what I am doing, after a woman asked me what I was doing. I just told her I was exploring responses to me staring at people--not just people's reactions, but my response within myself. She told me that it just seems unnecssary, people should mind their own business.
You know, sometimes, I feel ugly and scared when I connect to a whole or to individuals. Like everyone is walking dead around me;
everyone wants to mind their own business and protect what little space they have because they think this act will protect them from death--from ultimate loneliness--if they have what they have, their families, their own lives, and have the power to say, just leave me alone. Or if they are alone, not part of any collective to begin with, they can affirm that this tangible life is real. If they believe that we are divided as individual entities, then everything we work for so fucking hard every day, just to sustain ourselves in this world on this planet isn't in vain. If we all believed that real life existed both in life and in death, would we all off ourselves, or would we commune in some way we haven't?
Sometimes in these crowds I feel so alien, and sometimes I feel so alive and connected and honored to be part of humanity. And it's not the crowd that changes. It's the exact same crowd I think.
So I am asking this:
How does it makes you feel when you are stared at?
Why don't you make eye contact with me?
How do you perceive me?
How can I create a document that explores this experience, or make this experience valuable?
Oh the humanity. There are ghosts on this particular day.