If you’re a human woman who has ever been in public, you’re probably well aware of what it feels like to be stared at by random people on the street. Nineteen-year old Priyanka Shah attempted to capture that feeling in a photo series that shows the scrutiny women face from others when they are simply going through their daily lives. Shah’s powerful images show what it’s like to be stared at and judged in public and illustrate the feelings of self-consciousness and isolation that result from being the object of that sort of gaze.
Originally from Mumbai, India, Shah is a design student studying at the Srishti Institute of Art and Design Technology in Bangalore. In a Facebook post about the photo project, Shah explained that, despite many people’s efforts to practice self-acceptance and love, those efforts are often undermined by the judgmental perspectives of others. “[T]here are always comments or sighs passed in probably the most negative way,” she wrote. “People comment on others bodies, pass remarks, brutally criticize and this makes one feel sick. Even though one tries to be strong, there is a lack of belief, trust and acceptance.”
“[W]hen I came up with an idea, it was almost like a social experiment,” she explained. “I asked one of my friends what is the outfit she feels most comfortable in. She said "an oversized t -shirt and shorts". So she wore that outfit and I took her to a few public places like parks and markets and all I did was hide and shoot reactions of people that walked by.”
The resulting images show Shah’s friend, Aishwarya, as she hangs out in public places like a park and a flower market, often subject to glances and stares from other people.
Shah tells Bustle that, for women, “clothes have always mattered so much,” and that, regardless of what they wear, they “are looked at in the most negative way possible.” She says that when she’s told people in the past what it’s like to be judged negatively by strangers for her clothing, they haven’t taken her very seriously — so she decided to capture those experiences on camera. “I really wanted to show people what kind of looks we get, how intimidating and horrifying they could be,” she says. “How getting on the streets everyday is like an emotional battle and how we have to think twice before wearing something we are most comfortable in.”
Shah describes the photo shoot itself as “one of the most intimidating experiences of my life.” She recalls that, as she and Aishwarya were shooting, people on the street made rude comments to them. “When we visited the flower market, within 30 minutes we were forced to leave as people got rude and rowdy and the situation could have gone out of hand,” she explains. “At the flower-market, I went up these staircases where it was pitch dark and no one could see me; however, all of them were in my frame, and just when they saw me disappear, a few men started taking pictures with my friend without her consent.”
Shah tells Bustle that the responses she’s gotten to the photos have been “extreme.” Some people have said they hate the photos and have argued that the people in the image are only staring because there was a photo shoot in progress. Shah insists that she and her camera were hidden throughout the shoot, and that Aishwarya simply stood confidently while passersby made comments about her. Shah says that most people, however, have been supportive of the photo series. “[M]en and women both have told me that they have found this very relatable as they probably go through the same,” she says. “They found the concept and my way of shooting interesting. A lot of people appreciated the project, saying, ‘Kudos for having the courage to do something like this'.”