Swedish photojournalist Moa Karlberg says her “Watching You Watch Me” project is “an effort to create debate laws and ethics within the photographer’s role.” She shoots unsuspecting subjects through a one-way mirror, catching their expressions as they think they’re looking only at themselves.
What gets me about the photos isn’t the ethical question of shooting someone secretly-in-public, but the subjects’ expressions as they see their reflections. I don’t see a single photo on Karlberg’s site that shows a person happy with what they see. There seems to be a lot of standard downtrodden-and-overworked–and God knows I’ve looked into the occasional storefront to see the last eight hours at the office staring blearily back at me–but there’s also a lot of what looks to me like disapproving cut-eye, dismay, and even disgust.
I know I’m guilty. When I get dressed to go out, I look myself in the mirror and tell myself how awesome I look. Then when I actually go out, in my mind, I look like Charlize Theron. (Note that I’m a 5’7″ redhead, making that particular fantasy particularly unrealistic.) And then when that inevitable moment comes during the evening when I have to go pee, I look in the bathroom mirror and observe with shock that I actually look like me. Usually, at that point, a rather shiny-looking me with mascara under her eyes. And my expression is probably something like picture #8 on Karlberg’s site.
Obviously, no one should be expected to perform any emotion, even for oneself, and sometimes you just don’t feel like smiling. But y’all, don’t glare at yourself in mirrors, store windows, and the sides of cars. It sucks when strangers do it to you; you should at least be able to expect better behavior from yourself. Unless you’re looking like #14, who looks to me like he could be saying, “Now there is one sexy bitch. What’s up, stud” and then making tiger noises at himself.
So next time you pass a mirrored surface, look into it and make tiger noises at yourself–not because there might be a voyeuristic, camera-toting Swede on the other side, but because you’re on this side. And if there is a Swedish photojournalist on the other side, you probably just made her day.