this new photo book is a love letter to dudes with ponytails

Photographer James Eisen wants you to appreciate the majesty of the male ponytail.

by Wendy Syfret
30 May 2017, 9:20am

Diese Woche steht ganz im Zeichen von Haaren. In unserer i-D Hair Week erkunden wir, wie Haare eine Konversation über Identität, Kultur und Gesellschaft starten. Dieser Artikel erschien zuerst auf i-D Australia / New Zealand. 

Ponytails, at first glance, seem so innocent, but on closer inspection it's a pretty loaded hairstyle; usually favoured by school girls and women in a rush, the most contentious part of the culture is arguably the men who love them.

We're not talking about dudes as festivals with man buns, attempting to make some kind of 2017-appropriate style statement. But rather the old dude standing in front of you at the service station who hasn't cut his hair for 30 years. That's where the interest, the mystery if you will, lies for photographer James Eisen. His new book P*O*N*Y is an exploration of this silent group, a product of seven years spent quietly documenting them. By the end of the project he found a profound appreciation for the "freedom of the male ponytail". We spoke to him about what that actually means.

Why make a book about dudes with ponytails?
It stemmed from watching Michael Mann's film Heat with Val Kilmer playing a drug-fuelled criminal with a ponytail. That is my first memory of being excited by them. But looking through history and you find such diverse people as Napoleon, Marlon Brando, Prince, Danny DeVito and Karl Lagerfeld all supporting the look. I was interested in the conscious or unconscious wish to express some kind of androgyny through hair. This project was produced automatically, with minimal intervention from me. It was just a case of having a camera whilst travelling and when a ponytail was in front of me I would shoot.

So to be clear, you're a fan.

Have you ever rocked one?
I had longer hair when I was younger; I have a memory from primary school where the teacher made my long hair into a ponytail. I think you weren't allowed to have hair past your shoulders. So technically yes, briefly I did have a ponytail.

It's interesting to explore the look in the age of the man bun. You seem to have stayed away from any kind of fashion statement though.
I didn't discriminate against the fashion type; I was only taking photographs of ponytails which came into my space. I think there are so many reasons why people wear a ponytail, it's hard to say if it's for fashion or style. I've heard many reasons since the book has been published: some say it's a security blanket, some say it gives you greater credibility.

You describe the "freedom of the male ponytail" beyond hair, what does it represent to you?
I think it's another way to saying "I'm committed."

Did you notice any similarities between these men with ponytails?
I didn't see it at first -- but some people on first sight if the book-thought it was all the same person.

Guys with ponytails are often a bit of a punchline, are you looking to change the way we view them?
I would really like too only celebrate this iconic and or ironic gesture. The only thing I hope is when you see a ponytail, you might stop and think, that's a beautiful pony.

P*O*N*Y is available now through Diane Inc.


Text Wendy Syfret
Photography James Eisen

james eisen