One young artist is taking a stand against street harassers with a simple tool: her camera. Caroline Tompkins, 22, started taking pictures of the people who catcall her on the street and posting them to her website, Hey Baby, as an ongoing photo project about reclaiming public space.
Catcalling is often dismissed as “just saying hi.” But it’s called street harassment because it is a type of verbal assault. It objectifies women, makes them feel uncomfortable in public, and sometimes leads to more violent confrontations.
“When I first moved to New York from Ohio, I found myself feeling incredibly unsafe just walking to work,” Tompkins told Al Jazeera. “I felt myself needing to fight back from that, at least for my own sake, to feel like I was doing something about it.”
“I have been grabbed, I have been surrounded by men at night walking home,” Tompkins continued. “In terms of what they are actually saying—it’s anything from ‘hey baby’ to where they are going to put their genitals on me, what kind of babies we would have together. There is never a break, it’s relentless.” Often, Tompkins said, the catcallers don’t cease their behavior even as she’s documenting them.
Tompkins isn’t the only woman whose turned a lens onto her harassers. Artist Hannah Price took portraits of men who catcalled her on the street. Artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh started a poster campaign with portraits of women and their reaction to catcalling. Tompkins is adding to a growing movement of women taking a stand against a pervasive form of sexism.
What’s particularly interesting about Tompkins’ imagery, is that her photos show how unperturbed her harassers are. Many pose brazenly for photographs, some even vulgarly. (She’s taken a few pictures of men with their hands directed towards their genitals.) Her photos reveal a sense of shamelessness and a lack of understanding from street harassers when it comes to objectifying women. The results are chilling and serve as important reminders that things need to change.