ART+CULTURE: Photographer Derek Ridgers captures individuals for whom hair tells a very personal story
Photography: Derek Ridgers
Interviews: Helena Frith Powell
Photographer Derek Ridgers has spent over 40 years documenting Britain’s subcultures. Renowned for his documentary style images, which offer a portrait of life on the fringes, Ridgers has had a lifelong fascination with rebels and misfits. In the late 70s, he began to comb the streets with his camera, seeking out the “trends and anti-trends”. Punks, skinheads, rockabillies, mods, goths, club kids – over the decades Ridgers has captured these ever-changing groups, perfectly illustrating the way in which fashion, hair and make-up can offer a fascinating insight into identity, attitude and ideology. For this story, Ridgers turns his gaze onto the subject of hair, capturing individuals for whom hair tells a very personal story.
Harnaam, 27, Model and Motivational Speaker, UK
My hair has defined me in so many ways, it is not just what I look like, it’s made me what I am today. I was bullied about my facial hair from nursery onwards. I have polycystic ovaries, a condition which leads to large amounts of male hormones. The worst years were probably my teenage years where I tried everything to remove it. It was almost like it took its own revenge, because the more you remove it, the more it comes back. At the lowest point I even considered suicide. I think that was a turning point. I thought, “I can’t live like this, I’ve done nothing wrong.” You are beautiful whatever society says about you. I’m a woman with a beard and I’m here to advocate self-love. I give motivational talks and I lecture in schools where I try to teach children to love themselves and get over whatever body issues they have. If I had any advice to my 12-year-old self, it would be to get through the hardship. “It’s OK,” I would say. “You’re hurting now but everything is part of your journey and you will leave a legacy.”
Kata, 38, Curator and Art Historian, Hungary
About 10 years ago I shaved half of my head, which is when this process of experimenting really began. Now I have a late 70s mullet kind of hairdo, which I adore! My hair is very important to me. It is part of my body’s ability to communicate against society’s stereotypes. Body politics is very important to me. Here in Hungary we are living in a very conservative era. I was bullied for many years just for having curly hair. I always wanted to have short hair, but because my head is small in comparison with my body my hairdresser refused to cut it off. That’s when I did it myself and really started to use my hair to make a statement. Even now, as I have aged and no longer have such a youthful face, I find I can cope without the safety net of long hair. But I’m happy with it, and I like changing it regularly. I think change is a very positive thing.
Tuttii Fruittii, 29, DragClown, Hair Sculptor and Salon Owner, UK
My hair is gives me a canvas for endless creations! It lifts me up and gives me life. It helps me remove the past, clear my mind, and evolve into a greater version of myself. I started styling my hair differently at a very young age. As soon as I was able to start walking and talking I became very creative with hair. I’d also style all my friends’ hair, I’d shave the boys’ hair off. Their mums would go crazy at me! I’d steal my mum’s clippers and take them into my dad’s garage to try to do fades on their hair and totally mess it up and then shave it all off. Secretly I just wanted to shave all my own hair off but was too afraid of showing my true tomboy self at that age. My hair is the one thing that I never get tired of. I feel that a haircut makes us all happy because we are removing dead weight. Suddenly it’s in a pile on the floor and you can think clearly again.
“I feel that a haircut makes us all happy because we are removing dead weight. Suddenly it’s in a pile on the floor and you can think clearly again”
Toni Tits, 27, Visual Artist, Drag Clown, TechniKolor Hair Sculptor and Salon Owner, UK
Hair has such a deep connection to my soul. My identity is constantly changing and evolving. I’m a shapeshifter at heart, so my hair is one of the many ways I express my ethereal ever-changing spirit. My friends at school in France always use to say, “Toni you will grow out of this colourful style, when you become an adult you won’t want to look like this”, to which I systematically answered, “I will always look like this”. It’s so important to be unapologetically you in this life. The world will never stop being oppressive so we can only get bolder and thicker skinned to not let it stop us. One day I’ll want a really abstract pattern designed into my hair with little multicolour pony tails sticking out of my head, and the next I’ll want to wear a really sharp slicked black wig. It’s so much fun to transform yourself on the outside whenever you feel like it. It’s like when a snake sheds its skin, giving way to a new fresh chapter every time.
Robin, 54, Photographer and Printer, UK
My hair means everything to me. It defines me. Ever since I was a young kid I identified with the rock and roll, teddy boy image and as soon as I could grow sideburns, I did. I was a teenage punk rocker and when I stopped bleaching my hair it fell quite naturally into a quiff. My favourite band is The Clash, although most people assume I’m a rockabilly when they see me. Even if in my heart I still feel like a punk rocker. I do feel sorry for anybody who is passionate about music and has gone bald early. I remember when I was a kid on the school bus, there was a rockabilly who used to get on, and when I saw him again 25 years later he still had the same hairstyle. I thought, “that’s me”. As long as my hair hangs on in there I won’t change it!
Sophia, 21, Marketing Student, #unibrowmovement, USA
I had no idea that growing a monobrow was that much of a big deal! It really started with my mother advising me not to get them done too young, she over-tweezered them when she was young and then regretted it. I stopped plucking them when I was away on a trip and they didn’t bother me. So I thought, “if they’re not bothering me, why should I change them?” My mono-brow is usually the first thing people notice about me but my close friends say that after five minutes you just forget about it. I brush it with a toothbrush every day, it looks horrible if I don’t. And I sometimes pluck the odd hair, I am not banning tweezers totally! I hope I’m helping to normalise the monobrow. I mean, why is it more normal to remove your eyebrows and then fill them in? What’s wrong with their natural state? I’m not here to judge anyone for being artificial but I do love the androgynous side of life, the resistance to being categorised. People always ask me if I would pluck my eyebrows for one million dollars. No, I tell them, I would pluck them because I wanted to, not because someone else wanted me to.
“I do love the androgynous side of life, the resistance to being categorised”
Lara, 15, GCSE student, Ireland
I’ve been bullied pretty much every time I’ve had my hair cut. At the age of 11 I wanted a Mary Quant bob. My mum said, “why don’t you start off with a normal bob?” but I’m an all or nothing type of person. I never thought I’d get any hassle about it but when I went to school I was called a lesbian. It wasn’t about sexuality, I was 11 years old! The teachers in my school in Northern Ireland didn’t want me there because all I did was cause hassle by being different. Eventually I moved school. At 13 I had a pixie crop and that’s more or less what I have now. My inspiration is 60s types of girls like Mary Quant and Liza Minelli. I love that era, when I grow up I want to be a tailor and make 60s style dresses. People can say what they like about it, but I just love my hair short. It’s my crowning glory.