Melonie Bennet’s exhibit contained several “stare-able” photographs, but the one that caught my eye and held my gaze the longest was Bartender Tricks, Old Port 2006. It instantly caught my attention thanks to the centered act of the trick itself. Although this type of spectacle may be common in big cities like New York, Boston, or Las Vegas, to see such a talent in a place like a bar in Maine is quite unusual right off the bat. Garland-Thomson remarks that “stares flare up when we glimpse people who look or act in ways that contradict our expectations” (6) and that is exactly why I stared the most at this photograph. Not only was the actual trick itself impressive, but it was also not something I’d ever expect to see displayed in a more rural part of the country, especially by a very normal looking man with no exceptional featured or oddities about his person. This complex, tedious trick is something I would expect out of some flashy, pompous looking guy, but not an average, humble looking bartender.
Upon further staring, one begins to notice other odd things in the photograph, such as the man standing next to the bartender, completely oblivious to the spectacle right next to him. His mouth is open and he appears to be speaking to someone else rather than admiring the man. He seems largely unimpressed, but perhaps it’s because he’s seen the trick before, which completely eliminates the element of surprise. However, just because he’s comfortable and familiar with the trick doesn’t mean that Bennet’s audience is, so her photograph plays a part in expanding the bartender’s own audience, so that we can be the ones incredibly impressed by his performance. Garland-Thompson remarks, “these encounters work to broaden collective expectations of who can and should be seen in the public sphere and help create a richer and more diverse human community” (9). Bennet’s Tricks does just that, by making the scene as comfortable and familiar as possible,and then placing the performing bartender in the middle so we may be more receptive to him.
In this average looking bar – with funny Old Port-like quirks like a Yoda statue and a t shirt that says “Official Talent Scout – Booty Call Modeling Agency,” – Bennet portrays a relaxed and funny environment that makes the starer comfortable and welcomed. In this way, she promotes “productive staring,” the kind that makes the viewer feel as though he or she is actually in the scene in the photograph, instead of looking at it from the outside. Someone’s shirt sleeve is in the foreground, making it feel like a body in our peripherals blocks our perfect view of the bartender. Although he is centered, other things eventually draw our attention and get in our way, much like they would if we were physically there in the crowded, noisy, quirky bar in Old Port. Bennet draws us in by making the bartender so familiar and average, so we can firstly warm up to the environment in order to be wowed by the trick.