The BEARDS OF NEW YORK book - An Introduction from the author
The BEARDS OF NEW YORK book captures the individuality, the fashion, and the sexiness of the modern beard. This portrait series showcases the beard’s many shapes and styles from a diverse mix of everyday New Yorkers from Wall Street traders to East Village barmen to Broadway actors and Upper East Side doctors. In a year of work, with more than 1000 people involved and more than 300 photo shoots, Greg Salvatori created a rich and faceted collection. He transforms each man into a sexy and playful study of contemporary masculinity. With this stunning portraits of men, radiant against the candy pink background, Greg taps into the lumbersexual aesthetic while exploring the meanings and boundaries of contemporary masculinity.
Not Afraid of Pink by Greg Salvatori Author of the BEARDS OF NEW YORK book New York, November 2015
Since I was a little boy, growing up in Italy, I was surrounded by hairy men obsessed with masculinity. A lot of their obsessions were focused on their beards, their mustaches or their shaved faces.
I remember being 11 and wishing to be as hairy as one of my classmates, a precocious Sicilian boy. He was just showing a pubescent stubble but for the rest of us that was a “beard” and it made him a “man”.
Never defeated, I was 15 when I bought my first electric razor, even if I still had little to shave. I kept wishing. The beard finally showed up when I finished with university and entered the working world.
But it came too late. Growing a beard was not an option in the headquarters of Ferragamo. The President, a strong and elegant woman who ran the global business for more than 40 years, had clear opinions and expectations about how men should look. In such a fashion aware environment, a shaved face was as stylish as a well tailored suit. Growing a beard would have been an obstacle to a promotion.
By the time I started working independently, I completely forgot that I had the freedom to grow a beard. It hadn't crossed my mind for years. The idea of growing my beard only happened when I was over 3 months into the making of Beards of New York.
The Beards of New York book is my third portrait collection focusing on visual elements that hide part of the face. The beard is, among other things, a physical obstacle between my camera and the face of the subject. In my Burqa Series, I photographed women – and men - behind the veil, creating portraits that were only focused on the eyes and their gender-less androgyny. In my second collection, New York Fashion Week, I worked with models, pageant queens, and hair artists whose stylized the models hair into veils and braids that hid and even trapped the faces.
Composing the Beards of New York book was exactly the opposite of having to deal with an obstacle. More than 1000 New Yorkers applied to be part of the collection and welcomed me to an amazing city and a vibrant community. After selecting, I completed more than 300 photo shoots in a year of work and had the chance to explore the beard and the masculinity of an unbelievable variety of amazing men.
I photographed men who craved for an occasion to show off their follicular trophies or their impeccably trained bodies. I encountered men who used the beard to cover part of the face they didn't like and men who used it to tell the world about their beliefs. I met men who “didn't give a fuck about their looks” except for their beard, and men who spent half an hour just checking their hair. I met young guys who wanted to look older and older men who wished to look younger. I took pictures of men who considered themselves the ultimate authority when it comes to what is a “real beard”. I talked to big, macho men who ran away at the mention of glitter and the confident men who sat comfortable and unassuming in front of the “girly” pink background. I listened to the ones who called the light setting “lady lighting,” and shared opinions with those who wanted any mention of gender removed from the law. I photographed gay men, bi men, straight men and men I wouldn't even know how to pigeon hole. Some men hit on me and some brought friend “just in case the photographer is weird.”
For a year, I navigated the arguments happening in public, from magazines to books, from the street to social media. A war of opinions has been raging, each view trying to define what a “real beard” is, what a “real man” is, and what it tells us about our culture these days.
For some the trend is growing, for others it's time to cut it out of the fashion universe. Some say the beard is manly and straight, for others it's "so gay!" Beards are "more" masculine, but can be "too" masculine. In some article the beard is filthier than toilet. In others it's all a plot created to sell more razors.
The conversation about the beard is clearly more intricate than the beard itself. Unable to just focus on the hair, it constantly mixes with our obsessions about masculinity. In the end, it all gets fuzzy.
For messy as it might be, I think there is something very healthy about this conversation so I decided to join in. My take was to feed the obsessions about masculinity with more obsessions: take a man, ask him to take his top off, and put him in front of a background that is standard for young girls and Barbie dolls. Then start talking to him about his beard, his body and his idea of masculinity. The glitter has just hit the fan.
A year of visual research made me rediscover how the beard is not just facial hair but the very battlefield where masculinity has so often been individually expressed, defined, judged, approved, shamed or even destroyed. It's without doubt one of the most important places where this conflict happens as it's literarily in our face. And in front of my camera.