Mass media today dictates much of our conception of beauty. Celebrities and models are held up as examples of perfection, which society emulates. Rebecca Drolen was interested in this kind of trend-following, causing her to examine her own values and ideals relating to beauty, particularly concerning hair.
As I thought about and studied the broader significance that hair has in our culture as well as mythology, I was really intrigued by the difference between hair that is “good” and can symbolize strength and sexuality, and hair that is grotesque and people remove, pretending it does not exist.
The result of this exploration is her series Hair Pieces. Both playful and dark, Drolen’s project explores the arbitrary and contradictory nature of traditional beauty advice. One of the best examples of this is the image Longer Lashes. “We are told through advertising that females need to maximize the length of their eyelashes, but how long is too long before this hair crosses the line between beautiful and terrible?” Drolen’s main goals are to construct a narrative and create characters, frequently using herself as the model and subject.
All the images in Hair Pieces were shot in Drolen’s home, most of them “against one gray wall.” Drolen calls her images “obsessively simple” and enjoys the challenge of weaving a story “using as few elements within the frame as possible.” Haircut, in particular, is an example of this simplistic storytelling as it reflects the feeling many people have regarding their hairstyles while invoking the story of Rapunzel. Shot straight-on with medium format black and white film, these images are then scanned and digitally edited in order to maximize control over the final prints.
Drolen hopes to create a small set of salt prints from this series, presented with actual hair. This plan taps into her interest in handmade art and a taste for the bizarre. “For me, this can reference the sentimental period of Victorian mourning jewelry and art, which has been a large source of inspiration for the work.”
And though it can be easy for an artist who is inspired by the old and antique to mimic that style in their work, Drolen uses her art to reflect upon the feelings and aesthetics of our contemporary world while also telling a story. “I think that the art world will always have room for storytellers. I hope to make work that analyzes modern culture with a language of the past.” To connect with her audience is Drolen’s dream for her photography: “I feel most successful when people can engage with, laugh at, or just generally have a personal response to my work.” With such amusing yet intelligent images, this series can certainly be deemed a success.
Rebecca Drolen’s series Hair Pieces is on view at The Kiernan Gallery from July 18 - August 25, 2012.