Photography used as a social experiment has always been an important use of the medium. It is a medium that is useful to show things, what they look like and it can be used for evidence. The camera in this instance can be like a friendly weapon disarming people from words or actions and forcing people to think about how they might be conducting themselves. It is a way of showing the mirror back, letting them hear what they say, from the perspective of someone else.
In the following series, Hey Baby, Caroline Tompkins has done precisely this.
This is a subject I have yet to witness, usually when I walk down the street people look at me because I might look slightly scruffy, or forgot I was talking out loud, but never to 'romantically' approach me. I remember a conversation with a friend who made a similar stand, because it is a stand. She would photograph the people that would approach her. I witnessed this first hand and it felt like gathering evidence with a smile on their face. Like a cyclist might film their commute, it is very much like intimate CCTV from a person's point of view.
The phrase 'Hey Baby' is all you really need to know to get the discussion going and that is why the photographs match the intentions without overthinking the approach. Although the aesthetic is there, with widespread view the topic of harassment can come into play and it can be discussed and discouraged. We do not know these people, nor their names. But they form an archive, a personal archive to be used as a catalyst for change, to change our depictions of how people should act within a public realm.
What the photographs achieve is the sense of gaze and how a lot of women feel the same situations when they mind their own business. As a man, I would say its never happened to me. Whether or not it was acceptable for either men or women to do so it remains to be seen, but it seems a lot more common. Surely any sort of harassment is usually a no go.
Instead of the photographs making a beautiful selection to showcase and praise, the aesthetic drives its professionalism in standing up to the people who are doing it. It is putting the idea back to them. How would you feel if this was done to you?
This is the aspect that pushes it past a photographic series and into another realm of discussion, surpassing aesthetics and visual enjoyment but into something further.