PEOPLE: Photographer Ella Costache draws on the discomfiting abjectivity of hair
Interview: Hasadri Freeman
Photography: Ella Costache
Hair: Marius Schiell, Alex Serban
Models: Sarah Saed, Gabriela Comanescu, Anastasia Dem, Adela Maria Marius, Beatrice Sararu
In Ella Costache’s photographs, we see the hair on the back of the head more often than the face on the front of it. Most of the Bucharest-born photographer’s projects set out as a visual essay, underpinned by the desire to document hair and its ambivalent nature. Deftly deploying hair’s potential to unearth the abject, both as a literal mass of textures and as a natural bodily extension, the bio-material features predominantly in her work. Working at the junction of fashion and visual culture to create images in turns eerie and hauntingly confidential, her practice investigates broad notions of identity such as womanhood, cultural origin, and bodily depictions, tracing the way these translate into tangible visual outlets.
What made you begin to work with hair as a photographer? Everyone working with models uses hair in their projects, but they usually don’t pay much attention to it. I guess the turning point for me was my BA project, when I was looking for something really personal as a main subject. That’s when I realized I always had a complex relationship with my own hair, and a big interest in everyone else’s. With “cheVEUX,” I wanted to debate society’s perspective on physical appearance and the way they objectify people depending on their hair, as well as addressing the symbolism of its presence or absence.
What’s your method to bringing hair into your photography? Do you usually work with live models? Being interested in fashion, I tend to work with models. I noticed that sometimes I’m focusing more on their hair and body, and how these two create different geometrical shapes, rather than the face of the model.
Lately, I’ve been even more interested in working with hair as a medium, creating sculptures, installations and even props for my shoots. One good example is my collaboration with Epretext in Romania, and very soon a collaboration with a Willa Hillfreich, a female artist and jewellery designer in London.
Hair is a playful subject and can be used in so many unusual and new ways. You just need to be comfortable with it. I remember when I did my cheVEUX installation with hair collected from different people, I felt so weird at first about touching it. Now I keep that glass box in my room at home.
What’s unique about hair as a medium, to you? I believe that hair has its own personal life, whether it is natural or synthetic. There’s something unusual and hard to explain about its tactility, and the fact that you can talk about human presence without having it in the picture. I also love using hair just because I know it gives some people an unusual and uncomfortable feeling.
What is your relationship with your own hair like? I think my interest in hair actually started from a bad relationship with my own. Since I was very young it was very hard for me to understand and style my hair. At some point I tried cutting it really short, so that I would simplify things, but that made it worse. I straightened it for almost half of my life, until I started accepting the fact that it has a life of its own. Now if I don’t like it, I just put it in a bun and I carry on with my day.
Who or what inspires you? Do you draw inspiration from those in the hair industry? I tend to get inspiration from many places, not just photography. Lately I’ve been looking at a lot of painters. I’m trying to create images that evade reality.
Regarding the industry, INFRINGE has actually been a huge inspiration for me of late—being able to find so many creatives that work with hair has been unreal. Hyunwoo Lee’s comparisons between people and flowers are amazing, and Yuki Yanase’s sculptural punk hairstyles definitely caught my eye. Gary Gill’s projects have also been a source of inspiration for a while now, especially his project for Beauty Papers AW19, (which I’m so sad I didn’t get to buy before it sold out).
What is your dream project? That’s a really good question. I wouldn’t be able to say it exactly, but probably creating an interactive installation with loads of hair, making it impossible for people to avoid it. I wouldn’t mind filling the Turbine Hall at Tate Modern, but with hair.
Why is hair a good addition to product photography? What thoughts does hair elicit in a viewer? Hair is a good subject for concepts relating to the presence and absence of a human, but also intimacy. Whenever the hair isn’t attached to the body it seems to become something abnormal and isolated, when in reality it’s a piece of us.