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A Photographer Turns Her Lens On Men Who Catcall

Oct 17, 2013
Originally published on October 17, 2013 4:20 pm

Social media was abuzz this week with photographer Hannah Price's portraits of men who catcalled her on the street. We first saw the story on The Morning News, where Price was briefly interviewed. We wanted to indulge our curiosity about Price and her work, so we decided to give her a call.

Price's remarks from our interview are below, but first, some background.

Price moved to Philadelphia in 2009 from Colorado and noticed for the first time that she was getting catcalled. The photographer, who's currently working toward an MFA in photography at Yale, decided to turn the camera on the people who approached her on the Philly streets. This resulted in the series "City of Brotherly Love" (Philly's nickname).

Ambiguity might be one of this project's most prevalent themes. It's been mistakenly referred to as "My Harassers" on some blogs, which Price does not like. Her series doesn't take an aggressive stance on catcalling; it's not meant to incite social action, she says. Rather, it's an observation, a way to react behind the camera lens.

Price's portraits leave much to interpretation. Not only do we not know the situations in which she crossed paths with these men, but we also have no idea of their relationship. The photos are framed in a variety of ways; the lighting, composition and even positioning of the subjects themselves vary so much that viewers have plenty of freedom to interpret them.

Price also included a few scenes with no breathing human subjects in the frame, such as a photo of a Marian Anderson image and a beauty salon advertisement. The inclusion of these nonportraits heightens the ambiguity of the project. In a video interview, Price talks about her decision to include this imagery alongside the photos of the men.

"The nonportraits are more of how I would like to be approached. I would like to be approached in a respectable manner, or I would definitely like to fall in love," she says. "The nonportraits are more sort of how I envision a romantic encounter. I don't know if catcalling is necessarily romantic, it's more of like an instant in a situation."

In the video interview, she says she doesn't know how the project will affect the behavior of the men depicted: "I don't think it makes them re-think catcalling. 'Cause I'm just one person and we're all different people and we come from different places. I don't know in their experiences if they've had any luck with their catcalls. They probably have, depending on the person, so I don't think my one instance ... makes them re-think about what they're saying."

Price's process went like this: Someone — a man — would catcall her, and she would either snap their photo at that instant or she would ask to make their portrait.

Price says that taking photographs of the catcallers was a way to address and confront the people who catcalled her. "I'm in the photograph, but I'm not. Just turning the photograph on them kind of gives them a feel of what it's like to be in a vulnerable position — it's just a different dynamic," Price says. "But it's just another way of dealing with the experience, of trying to understand it."

The series also tracks with themes common in Price's work. The photographer, who is Mexican and black, gravitates toward photographing subjects whose ethnic identities overlap with hers.


Interview Highlights

On why she started making these portraits

It was just a reoccurring thing that I noticed, and that just threw me off guard, I just never really experienced it before. I just started reacting.

On what made her want to start documenting catcallers

I just started doing it. It was another way for me to just deal with it on another level besides avoiding it. Sometimes it's easier to ... just respond and confront people. And then just talking to people, you find out more about them than your initial [impression].

... It was more of like, "Here was a change in my life and it was something really apparent that I noticed."

On how she responded to catcallers before and during this project

Well, I mean the first initial response is avoiding [it], you don't want to. It's just an everyday thing to men and women, and it was just — yeah — one moment, I just started talking to people and I just realized that I could make their portraits and make something of it.

Some of them say "no" and if they say "no," I don't make their photo afterward. But most of them, the majority of them, respond quite well just 'cause I'm responding. Because usually it's expected of me to avoid them so I'm responding. They want a response, so usually they're pretty happy about it — about me talking to them. ...

I explain to them that I'm a photographer and I'm interested in making a portrait.

On how her multiracial identity informs her work

My background is I'm mixed-race. ... I'm Mexican and black, and I grew up in white suburbia and so I've photographed stereotypes of the black race and the majority [of the recent work has been] mostly about men.

It's just, I'm just trying to like ... bring all of these [ideas] of what a stereotype is and what people expect. It may or may not be true, that's the thing of what a stereotype is, is that they're true but they can also not be true. It's kind of like this thing that you base off what it looks like. What you perceive it to be.

On Alecia Lynn Eberhardt's comment that women should stop saying "I have a boyfriend" to deflect unwanted attention, and Jamie Nesbitt Golden's response

In that case, even if women said they had a boyfriend, it's just an expression that they publicly feel comfortable expressing themselves, telling someone how they feel. ...

I do think that women are the most beautiful thing on the planet. Women are beautiful. I get it. Men are men. It's an attraction. ... It can be dangerous, but I don't think it can be something fully avoided and controlled. Just as long as people understand the dynamics of a public expression in that way.

On Brooklyn artist Tatiana Fazlalizadeh's catcalling portraits

I think, it's good and I think it's ... I've definitely had those feelings and those frustrations before. And I mean it just shows, it's just another example of the power dynamic of how men decide to express their attraction. ... She's just saying, "No, stop. You don't have a right."

There were moments when I decided not to approach someone, like if I felt uncomfortable, I would avoid them. I didn't want to put myself in any danger. So it's not like I respond to every single person. ... It depends on how I was feeling that day. If I felt like photographing or not, or if I felt like talking to this stranger. Sometimes you don't really feel like talking to people and sometimes I would have a really bad day.

On whether she ever felt threatened

There was one moment where I felt threatened but that was because my response was disrespectful.

On whether she finds catcalling disrespectful

I'm not sure. To an extent, it is disrespectful. It depends on the tone, yeah. It really depends on the expression, what they say to you. Sometimes people will say they want to do something to you — I feel like that's really disrespectful. I think it really depends on the phrase.

On whether she's taking a stand against catcalling

I'm not trying to stop catcalling. I think a given thing, especially for an urban community ... it's more just an experience that I had, and a way for me to deal with it. I ended up making a relationship; I ended up taking time to spend time with people who threw me off guard and ended up making something beautiful out of it.

I mean, it's uncomfortable, the act of catcalling. But I'm not trying to do some social thing. I'm just trying to — it's coming from a different place. I'm just trying to understand. ...

I mean, I think it's kind of de-humanizing. I wasn't trying to dehumanize anyone, it was just a response [to] an experience, and just because I'm ... just because I'm a black person or a minority, it's easier for me to talk about this subject or make those photographs. And I understand how other people may respond to it. I'm just trying to point out that ... I was just transitioning from a different place, I was just trying to .... point out that we're all human and all confused.

That's why it's the switch of the camera. I'm in the photograph, but I'm not. Just turning the photograph on them kind of gives them a feel of what it's like to be in a vulnerable position. ... It's a different dynamic — but it's just another way of dealing with the experience, of trying to understand it.

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.