Day of the Dreads

Good and bad hair days in Scottsdale

Almost without exception, the photographic art in "HairStories" is remarkable. James VanDerZee's wonderful environmental portraits of beauty and barbershop clients taken during the height of the Harlem Renaissance in the 1920s and '30s sparkle and underscore the vital importance of the neighborhood hair parlor as a social center for the exchange of information and ideas. Deborah Willis' Bald Three Days (2001), a balding self-portrait taken after the artist had undergone chemotherapy for cancer, is a poignant admonition that disease and death are equal opportunity employers colorblind to race or social status.

But the most fascinating photos of all are those by Bill Gaskins. Tamara and Tireka, Easter Sunday, Baltimore, Maryland (1995) features two young women set against the backdrop of an industrial riverfront. Their elaborate 'dos, piled high on their heads like some avant-garde Frank Gehry building and set off by perfectly formed and flat forehead curls, are a tribute to the architectonic. Gaskins has also documented African-American hair shows, which have the same strange hold on me as those child beauty pageants made famous by the ill-fated JonBenet Ramsey.

Gaskins' Stylistic Model, Spring Hair Show, Columbus, Ohio (1991) documents the fashion of cutting geometric designs into the scalp. But the photographer's real pièce de résistance, however, is Stanley Bronner Brothers International Beauty Show, Atlanta, Georgia (1991), an incredible black-and-white photographic depiction of a male model whose hair has been cut, coaxed and teased into a classic, foot-high Smurf hat -- or maybe it's a King Kamehameha Royal Hawaiian headdress.

Legacy (1999), by Kori Newkirk
Legacy (1999), by Kori Newkirk


Continues through January 4. For information call 480-994-ARTS
Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art, 7374 East Second Street in Scottsdale

Whatever the model's creative coiffure may aspire to be, this photo alone is worth the price of admission to "Hair Stories."

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