The end of the lighting photography course is here and I feel as though as a photographer I’ve grown at least half a decade. I went from feeling like a baby photog to being comfortable (and even a little addicted) to studio and strobe lighting. The way you create things out of nothing has been something that has drawn my interest as a visual creative, so taking that ideal to exponetial heights by creating a socially aware project on the natural hair movement among African American and biracial women has been my baby this semester, a labor of love.
I’m forever appreciative of the faculty and support system that have fostered the environment and skillset for me to be able to create this project. The support throughout has been incredible. So, here it is. My portrait series, shot with a borrowed grey backdrop, one to two Dynalights on light stands, a single reflective umbrella, and a Nikon camera.
Natural Hair Portrait Project with Gabby Hays. “Having my hair natural is such an experience because I get to be my raw, authentic self,” Gabby Hayes says. “I remember once in high school a girl said ‘Gabby’s hair is so nappy, even when she straightens it it’s still nappy’ and I remember thinking what does that mean and who taught you that that was okay?”
Natural Hair Project with Brea Cubit. “My relationship with my hair? It’s a good one, it’s come a long way,” Brea Cubit says. “I used to not like it just because it wasn’t accepted growing up. I used to get made fun of a lot for having my natural hair. So it’s been kind of been a long journey, but I’d say right now it’s a good relationship. If it’s me then it’s something that I should be proud of no matter what other people think.”
Natural Hair Project with Vernita Bediako. “It’s just allowing your hair to be free,” Vernita Bediako. “I think if curls, kinks, locs, that’s the form that it wanted to go in; not to put a product in your hair to conform to a style that society deems as appropriate or attractive. It’s allowing your hair to be just that, your hair. I’ve always had locs, and I’ve always been incredibly in love with the way my hair is, even when I would get teased as a kid. Dread locs honestly give you a bout of courage to just step out and show people who you are; it causes you to be transparent.”
Natural Hair Project with Majiyebo Yacim. “Do I love my hair? ‘Love’ is a strong word, ‘like’ is also a strong word,” Majiyebo Yacim says. “I’m used to it. I’m content with it, it’s hair. I wish I’d treated it better in the past. It’s resilient, it’s been through a lot, it’s suffered. But it still grows from my head and I appreciate that. White eurocentric standards of beauty are ingrained in every aspect of society so anytime you deviate from that you’re automatically made aware in a variety of different ways.”
Natural Hair Project with Brielle Holt. “I think I would define natural hair as a way of embracing my culture, where I come from, my roots, who I am,” Brielle Holt says. “I feel like your natural hair gives you the ability to express yourself in ways that no one else can because it’s your hair and you embody it and no one has the same hair that you have. I feel like when you see my natural hair you get a feel for who I am, I try to be creative with it.”
Natural Hair Project with Sam McGee. “I love my hair, my hair is my baby in a lot of ways,” Sam McGee says. “I take care of it like a child, it’s a full time job. I love my hair now, but it’s been a process to get to this point. For the longest time I thought if my hair wasn’t straight then I wasn’t pretty, and it came a lot from my mom, but she didn’t mean it, she just didn’t know how to deal with my natural hair. My hair is a beast, it’s almost untamable, it takes discipline.”
Natural Hair Project with Terilyn Harris. “It’s a love hate relationship, sometimes I get the curls just right and it looks great or I really hate the way it looks,” Terilyn Harris says. “It’s also a lot of maintenance and you have to put in a lot of work for it to be healthy and look good, which sometimes just frustrates me.”
Natural Hair Project with Lily Moore. “My hair to me, I mean there was a struggle, there was a lot of time that I spent during my childhood trying to get it to be a slightly different kind of curl or as close as I could get it to straight,” Lily Moore says. “I just cut it all off so it doesn’t have the shape and defiant power that it used to. I mean it doesn’t really listen to me, it sticks up in places, especially now that it’s short, in places that it’s not supposed to. I would describe my hair as your cute much younger brother, who’s like a toddler and he’s very loveable but he’s an asshole sometimes.”
Natural Hair Project with Tatyana Presley. “I’m happy with who I am, but I feel like I’m still growing. I have a good relationship with my hair but when I was younger I thought it was too thick, too coarse, but I’ve grown to love my hair,” Tatyana Presley says. “It’s not one way or the other, it’s pretty different, unique. There’s no such thing as ‘good hair’ who is someone to say one hair type is better than another. To me all hair is beautiful hair despite if it’s short, long, curly, straight whatever. Hair is hair; It shouldn’t be as controversial of a topic that it is.”
Natural Hair Project with Kala Echevarria. “I define it as self love in a way, because I think it shows that you’re not afraid or you’re proud of your hair despite what the norm is as far as beauty standards go,” Kala Echevarria says. “When I was little my mom did a lot of relaxers. I would see girls that went to school who had nice wavy hair and I was very envious of that, and that’s what I wanted. I felt for a while just ugly, and it was just because of my hair. I didn’t like the way it looked, it was different.”
African American Women “challenging” societal norms with the “radical” notion of letting their hair grow, naturally.
In the 60s a cultural movement called “Black is Beautifyl strove to counter the discrimanatory narrative that black people and their features — skin color, facial features and hair — were considered grotesque.
The movement centered around ending the severe social pressure for black individuals to chemicallt alter their skin and hair (relaxer/perm and skin bleaching).
In the 60s and 70s the “Black Power Movement” took political, social and philosophical lengths to gain black empowerment and change the second class citizen status that was socially oppressing the black community.
The movement targeted changing the way the black community viewed itself, and the way society at large viewed and treated black individuals in America.
In 2017 the social norm of what is seen as beautiful, professional and even acceptable is still based on white American standards. And while the “Natural Hair Movement” is gaining interest, a eurocentric hierachy still exists within the movement placing higher value on looser curls and lighter skin over tighter curls, locs or darker skin.
An attempt to still control black bodies, divide the movement and pillage black culture.
“The beauty of my people is so thick and intricate. I spend days trying to undo my eyes so I can sleep” — Nayyirah Waheed.