As you may gather from the date of my last post, I’ve been off the blogging boil for quite some time. Excuses include abandoning the life of a nomadic freelancer for that of a sulky one-hour-plus commuter who could no longer work from 7.30am until 12, go to a gallery when there’s no-one but a few trendy pensioners hanging around and be back at your desk for the 3pm until whenever-you’ve-done-enough-work-to-silence-the-voice-in -your-head-that-says-working-from-home-isn’t-a-proper-job shift (if it’s in time for the news at 10, you’re having a good day).
I’ve been to so many great art shows in recent months and not found the time to write them up (highlights: Museum of Water at Somerset House, Post Pop: East Meets West at the Saatchi, and Grayson Perry’s Who Are You? at the National Gallery) but I promised myself that this year I would force myself to stop being boring at the weekends and get back into doing creative things, so here we go. If you can’t post opinions no-one asked for on the internet in 2015, when can you? And frankly, I’ve run out of things to watch on Netflix.
Anyway, I went to an exhibition called Beard at Somerset House. There were a lot of guys walking around it in various levels of hirsutism, each expressing a corresponding degree of woeful inadequacy. Because the beards on display – photographed by Brock Elbank – were, frankly, magnificent. (If you don’t like that adjective, there are a whole host of others on allaboutbeards.org’s gallery of featured beards, which for reasons I won’t go into is something of which I am aware. My personal favourite is “Patrick’s picture-perfect beard”. No, wait. “Andy’s awe-inspiring beard”). I can only assume that the other attendees were dedicated pogonophiles. Full disclosure: my boyfriend has a beard.
The exhibition can’t really escape its hipster connotations – the hand-out acknowledges that ‘peak beard’ was erroneously proclaimed in 2013 – but there’s a lot more on offer, too. Elbank rails against the Hackney factor in this interview with the Independent, where he points out that he first photographed a beard in 2004, before they were as common in east London as Reebok classics and gristly £12 hamburgers. More importantly, the show is also raising awareness for the Australian charity Beard Season, which encourages men to grow beards to help them start conversations about melanoma and encourage people to get tested. The project began after Elbank met the charity’s founder Jimmy Niggles, who had recently lost a friend to skin cancer, and came up with the idea of photographing 60 men with beards and sharing them on social media using the hashtag #Project60.
Elbank says the project is “more about the person behind the beard”, and that definitely shows. Most of the people photographed looked like male models, which could be because of the way they’d been shot (think sideways-on, with piercing eyes), or maybe just because having a beard is insanely attractive. Answers on a postcard. But they weren’t (well, apart from the original bearded model Ricki Hall – above). From tattooed Instagram hipsters to older men who wear their long-cultivated facial furniture with a kind of comfortable authority, and whose beards could probably tell you a tale or two (see Frank Moon, also above), to the marvellous Harnaam Kaur, a 23-year-old woman with polycystic ovary syndrome who accessorises her beard with a flick of eyeliner and is my new life inspiration. There’s also the drag queen Madame Heinz, looking amazing. And Gavin Turk! But I think my favourite was this one in the final room, which reminds me of the punky anarchism a bit of facial fluff can convey, or probably could when not every Tom, Dick and Jeremy Paxman had tried one on for size.
I’ll be honest – it made me a bit sad that I can’t grow a beard. I wondered what the female equivalent of Beards would be, and couldn’t come up with anything at all. Why can’t girls grow anything that’s considered strong and super-feminine? When you see a woman with really, really long hair you just assume she probably still watches Disney films, and worry about the size of her conditioner bill. Then there’s always fierce nails, but although I admire their bravery having been on the wrong end of an electric file myself, I suppose plastic doesn’t really count. I suppose we’ll just have to rely on amazing Harnaam Kaur to fly the flag for female endurance hair-growing for now.
Anyway, it’s showing for less than a month (closes 29 March) so if you’re a facial fuzz fan, pencil it in. The Scarcity Waste photography prize is also on at Somerset House until 11 April and is also free entry – it focuses on pollution, water and waste across the world and is worth a look.