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Natural beauty: A photographer's perspective

NATURAL BEAUTY: From left - models Ade, Dominique and k.queenconsciousness (image credit: Selom of Pixus Photography and make-up by Dolly Essence Beauty)

EARLIER THIS year I had the pleasure of photographing a group of young talented ladies with a unique identifier - they had natural, afro hair. They had each made the conscious decision to refrain from applying artificial chemical hair care products and opted to maintain their hair with natural herbal-based products only.

The decision to create a photoshoot around ladies with this specific hair type was not revealed during a dramatic epiphany or a eureka moment (sorry to disappoint). I felt that the natural African hair theme provided an opportunity to create unique content as this did not have a large representation on social media feeds. It also posed a decent technical challenge in terms of lighting, composition and post-processing. After all what is the point of a photography project if it does not push the boundaries of your technical knowledge? The beautiful ladies selected for the shoot represented a variety of ebony skin tones which meant that the lighting had to be adjusted specifically for each one of them.

The ladies were also selected to represent a variety of hair styles and texture. With hair being the focus of the shoot, it was imperative that the hair was sufficiently lit such that there was enough light to provide a desired halo effect but not so much that detail and texture is lost.

STRIKE A POSE: Model Ade (image credit: Selom of Pixus Photography and make-up by Dolly Essence Beauty)

The shoot itself was fantastic with a very relaxed atmosphere in the studio as usual. Everyone involved brought in the right level of positive energy which made the job so much easier. However it was the lead up to the actual shoot that I found most enjoyable.

I was carrying out some research on the subject matter, as you do, in search of inspiration for shots. Clicking on the images took me to blogs and articles which threw some quite staggering statistics at me. For instance, according to the Huffington Post, the UK black hair care industry is worth an estimated £88 million with black women spending three times more than women of other ethnicities.

That initially seemed like an exaggeration but the more I thought about it, the more it made sense.

Women of other ethnicities have naturally straight hair where as many black women need to regularly spend on products to keep their hair straight which has been the popular choice for several years. Add to that the demand for weaves, extensions, dyes etc. and you can begin to see some justification for the figures.

This then raised two questions in my naturally curious mind. Firstly, one would be forgiven for assuming that the UK afro hair care industry would be dominated by several black-owned businesses. Au contraire! A quick walk down my nearest street market reveals that all the afro hair shops are owned and run by either Turkish, Middle Eastern or Indian men! I admit that is not a very scientific sample group but I would not be surprised if this is the case all over the UK.

SHOWCASE: Model Dominique ((image credit: Selom of Pixus Photography and make-up by Dolly Essence Beauty)

Secondly, and I guess more importantly, why is straightened, relaxed hair the popular hairstyle of choice for many African and Caribbean women? Further reading into this particular question revealed a much deeper, much broader discussion with several very valid arguments being made on both sides for and against this choice.

One school of thought is that the most women opt for straight hair as a matter of practicality and convenience as opposed to the other school of thought which suggests that this choice is being made at a subconscious level (where it is no longer a choice) in a quest for acceptance and a sense of belonging in our modern western-oriented societies. These criteria for acceptance have roots in generations of mockery and ridicule towards natural African features.

This in turn led me to ask myself a number of questions because it appears that these issues have been right in front of me for several years but I have never actually given it much thought. For instance, as a man, what influence does hair style have in my choice of female companion? Does it affect my definition/perception of beauty? Is the answer to this question affected by the choice of hair style of the women in my family? Are these choices influenced by the hairstyle choices of our female celebrities and role models? It was quite interesting trying to answer these questions as honestly as I could and it sparked interesting conversations with my wife as well as with the models during the shoot.

ON TOP OF THE WORLD: Model Ade (image credit: Selom of Pixus Photography and make-up by Dolly Essence Beauty)

It is promising to see that there appears to be a reversal in the trend with the emergence of the 'Natural Hair Movement' over the last six years or so, which is dominated by young black women in America and Europe making a conscious decision to maintain natural hair and creating blogs, Youtube channels and websites to educate other women on techniques to make the maintenance process easy in light of the busy lives we all live. Many of these content creators have since moved on to create businesses which produce and sell natural organic hair care products. A slow change to the status-quo.

This increase in awareness has also made the major corporations in the hair care product industry sit up and take notice of the unique needs of the black customer and has resulted in the addition of products catering for the demography. Some of the major corporations have even acquired black owned hair care businesses in order to meet this ‘new’ demand. Whether these acquisitions are good for the growth of black owned businesses is a whole other topic.

What started out as a simple photoshoot theme led me on an educational and enlightening ‘trip’ and I just felt like sharing. Now I feel if I ever have a daughter in the future, I will be a position to guide her and help her to make her own choices with regards to hair and identity and to understand the reasoning behind those choices.

STRONG: Model Ade (image credit: Selom of Pixus Photography and make-up by Dolly Essence Beauty)

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