What is a “professional” hairstyle?
Photographer Endia Beal set out to answer this question with her new project “Can I Touch It?“
While participating in a five-week residency at the Center for Photography at Woodstock, Beal photographed White women wearing “Black” hairdos in efforts to bridge the gap in ways we express ourselves.
“I said, ‘I am going to give you a black hairstyle,’ and they were like, ‘You’re going to give me cornrows?’ ” she recalled. “And I said, ‘No, we’re going to do finger waves.’ ‘Finger waves? What’s that? You mean from the ’20s?’ And I said, ‘These are a little bit different type of finger waves!’
According to Slate, each of the subjects were at least 40 years old. “I wanted people that had a certain idea of what you’re supposed to look like in the workspace, because it would be a challenge for them to understand what I experienced in that space,” Beal said. “And to a degree, many young white women have shared that experience, but for older white women it’s an experience they haven’t necessarily had.”
The idea for the art project came from Beal’s experience as an intern in the IT department at Yale.
Beal is tall and black, and at the time she was sporting a large red afro that stood out among her colleagues, who were mostly shorter white males. One colleague told her about a rumor circulating around the office that many of the men were curious about her hair and wanted to touch it.
Being an artist and not wanting to shy away from her afro—or what Beal called “the elephant in the room”—she asked the men to not only touch her hair but to really pull it. She then recorded them a week later on video talking about what was for many of the men a new experience. “I wanted to allow someone to feel something different, to experience something they never had before, and through that experience, they felt uncomfortable,” Beal said. “And then to talk about it kind of amplifies that feeling.”
At the end of the experiment, Beal said the women had mixed emotions. “Some of them wanted to wear [their hairstyles] out, and some wanted to go home,” she said. “Many of them said, ‘I can’t wait to get home and show my husband!’ ”
Take a look at the portraits below and tell us your thoughts the project in the comment section.
All photos courtesy of cargocollective.com.