cataloging millennial hairstyles one dip dye at a time

For the past four years, Tara Bogart has photographed hairstyles of women in their 20s. As her show opens in New York, we find out why individuality is about more than fishtail braids and side shaves.

by Emily Manning
23 September 2015, 5:05pm

It's been almost 40 years since former Blondie backup singers Tish and Snooky founded Manic Panic, inspiring tidal waves of teens to hole up in their parents' bathrooms with headfuls of electric green goop. While a few women in photographer Tara Bogart's ongoing series A Modern Hair Study look as though they've tested out the brand's signature neon hues, Bogart maintains that self expression through hairstyles began far before the pastel punk revolution.

In 2011, Milwaukee-based Bogart took a group of students to France's National Library, and happened upon a 19th century photograph by Felix Nadar, an image of a young woman from behind that he called a "hair study." "You could tell that she was a contemporary young woman of the time, and that there was so much more being revealed about the era just from seeing the clip that was in her hair, the style of her hair, the nape of her neck," Bogart said. "I couldn't stop thinking about the photograph, so I decided to see what that would look like today. The 21st century young woman is very complex and after a few test shots, I felt like one portrait couldn't tell the story. So I started trying to get as many women in their 20s as I could."

Flash forward four years, and Bogart has shot heads of hair between Wisconsin and Paris, compiling an anthropological archive of modern day self expression. Ahead of A Modern Hair Study's opening tonight at New York's Elizabeth Houston Projects, we caught up with the photographer to find out more about how today's generation is redefining beauty.

How do you cast your subjects?
I'm lucky to work at a college, so there are several 'specimens' available to me. I try not to be too selective; I really want it to be as diverse as it can be in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. Initially, I'd just speak to someone who looked interesting and ask them to bring a few friends who also fit in the 20 - 29 age group, but the word got out and many more people started showing up to be shot. I don't reject anyone unless they don't fit into the age group. I don't want to say it's scientific because I'm not a documentary photographer, but I feel like it's a study, for sure.

Have you noticed any trends emerge in the time since you've been shooting?
I am seeing trends, but I went back to Paris in 2013 and made portraits of French women, so it's interesting to explore those trends as differences between French and American women. If you mix them all up together, you might not be able to distinguish which woman is what nationality. But if you look at the separate groupings, definite trends emerge between them. The American women tend to be more adorned: they've got more gages and tattoos, while the French women don't have as much of that. They tend to be a bit more classic in style.

You also have a series on tattoos. Do you feel this generation is more outwardly expressive?
When I was in my 20s getting a tattoo, it was illegal to get them in the city -- you had to go to the outskirts of town. There was such a stigma: what kind of person were you going to be when you grew up? Would you be able to get a job? All those things that parents and adults tell you. Now, I feel like it's not only so much more acceptable, but almost enjoyable. This generation has really embraced body art more so than others, and perhaps that's because of the opportunities there are. Often times I'm jealous about the crazy colors people can dye their hair now -- I grew up in the 80s and so for us, it was mostly jet black, bleached, or red.

What does beauty mean in 2015?
The door is a lot more open than it was when I was younger. We were the freaks that walked around with our bleached hair and black clothes, but now I feel like things are a lot more accessible now -- the perception of uniqueness is shifting to positive. What's interesting about this series is that we all have the same things: shoulders, backs, and for many in their 20s, hair. But I feel like there isn't a repeat of any of woman in the series. Each person is so incredibly unique in the shape of their shoulders or the patterns in their backs -- tattoos and piercings are different layers entirely. It's really showing markers of youthful age in this century and time period.


Text Emily Manning
Photography Tara Bogart

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