Hair and there in Dublin

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Photographing 100 men with beards, moustaches and interesting facial hair for an exhibition was a snip for photographer Sean Jackson, he tells EOIN BUTLER

‘HELLO. YOU DON’T know me, but I’ve been admiring your beard . . .” As opening gambits go, that one could prove a little dicey. But fortunately for Sean Jackson, recently commissioned to shoot portraits of 100 bearded men on the streets of Dublin, he had an ace up his sleeve. “I have a very attractive female assistant,” he laughs. “So that probably put them at ease. Only two or three men, in the week we were shooting, refused to have their picture taken.”

The Westport native worked as a headhunter in his 20s, but quit to become a photographer. “I love photographing people,” he says. “That’s why I got into this job. Even when I’m doing fashion photography, I tend to be more interested in the person than the clothes they’re wearing.”

The trend in street photography is toward quick, snappy portraits. But Jackson decided that this approach would not work for an exhibition. “A hundred blog-style photos of men with beards would have been very boring. So I spent anything from 15 minutes to an hour with each guy, getting to know him. With some, you’d get the shot straight away. Others took a bit of time.

“The sponsor was pushing for something very stylised. But I really wanted these guys to relax and be themselves.” Oh yes, the sponsor. Gillette is funding this celebration of facial hair. Isn’t that a bit like Head and Shoulders sponsoring a celebration of dandruff? “No, they’ve just launched a beard-grooming product. It is supposed to be a reflection of where Ireland is at.”

Unkempt and apathetic? “No, creative! The only currency we have left is imagination. So it’s the creative industry that will drive everything forward.”

So, what did Jackson learn from the experience of photographing men with facial hair, other than the fact that they seem to have a lot of free time on their hands? “To be honest, the biggest surprise for me was just how many people out there have beards. I had thought, where am I going to find these guys? But it was easy. They’re everywhere.”

One of the shots depicts a young man sporting what could be described as a combination Ronnie Drew and Salvador Dali (pictured left). Jackson remembers taking the picture. “Yeah, it turned out that guy was only 23. But I thought the beard made him look a lot older.”

Might that then be part of his reason for growing it? “Oh, absolutely. I’ve had a receding hairline since my early-20s. So for me, the appeal of facial hair is that I can have a moustache. I can have a beard. I can change my look.”

For Jackson, a beard is a statement. “The one thing you have to do every day is get dressed and present yourself. That’s the one artistic statement you make every day. Whether you know it or not, that’s the statement you make and that’s what I wanted to document.” And what of his models? Did he discover any diamonds in the rough? “There were one or two very masculine types who, the moment the camera came out, went full-on Zoolander. You know? The hand on the hip. The pout. They’d obviously been watching way too much America’s Top Model. There were only a couple like that, it was very funny.”

* Gillette Masters of Style runs at the Gallery of Photography, Meeting House Square, Dublin 2 until November 5th.

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