A legless artist documents the world in 32,000 stares
Tired of gawkers, Kevin Connolly traveled by skateboard, capturing their sheer human curiosity.
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"Because I'm not looking through the frame, I really wanted to push the idea that this isn't me trying to frame-up a shot and get someone to stare at me; this is just what people are doing. To really focus on the aspect of human nature that the photos present, rather than, 'Oh, look, those are real pretty.'"Skip to next paragraph
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Specifically, Connolly is interested in the seemingly instinctual reaction of staring at something that doesn't fit into a person's normal day-to-day existence.
"The thing I just loved was you had an executive-looking type guy in say New York City, someone who's clearly wealthy enough to afford a very nice suit and a good cell phone, staring at you in the exact same way that a beggar in Ukraine would.
"The notion of leveling everyone out through that one universal reaction, I think is really interesting."
Connolly also discovered that people invent stories for him that are closely intertwined with the places they live. In Ukraine, for example, he was thought to be a holy man. In Vienna and much of Eastern Europe, he was taken for a beggar, and people stuffed money into his backpack.
But the most troubling narrative for him came in Bosnia, a country still healing from its own war wounds, where Connolly was mistaken for the victim of a Serbian mortar attack.
"The stares I would get felt different than the ones I was getting elsewhere, say in Paris or London," he says. "There was a difficult time when I was trying to figure out if it was an ethical thing to take pictures of people staring at me, when I was basically capitalizing off of exposing their old troubles."
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Connolly returned to Montana with 32,000 photos; he took that many photos, he says, in an attempt to show a cross-section of humanity.
He put many of the photos on his website, TheRollingExhibition.com, and he chronicled his trip in a presentation at Montana State University in October, in which he posed the question, "Is there anything wrong with looking?"
"If every single person does it on the earth reflexively – just on reflex – I wouldn't even say there's so much about it that's right or wrong, it's just something that exists, and needs to be examined a bit more closely. I wouldn't put a right or wrong judgment on staring and curiosity."
The show apparently touched an aspect of curiosity in people – 200 extra seats had to be added to augment ones placed for the expected crowd of 400, and the show was punctuated by cheers and whistles – which surprised Connolly as much as anyone.
"Being born like this and raised the way I was, it's really tough for me to even conceptualize myself as disabled. I just don't have legs. So when someone says I'm really inspirational, it's a little strange, because I just don't think that at all."
But isn't the fact that he doesn't see himself as disabled exactly why he's so inspirational?
"Yeah, and that's always the catch," he shrugs.
"I really have to go back out again," he says. "I am curious about the world. I want to go see it."