BERLIN — Hair has been an ongoing theme in Herlinde Koelbl's work, at first, subconsciously, says the 68-year-old and still very redheaded photographer.
However, it was while working on her 2002 book, "Schalfzimmer/Bedrooms," that she purposely started to photograph women with interesting hair in their homes or on the streets in major metropolitan centers.
"I saw people with extraordinary hair everywhere," Koelbl recalls, but the various backgrounds distracted one's attention from the subject, so she decided to start again.
For the next six years, the peripatetic photographer and guest professor rented bare white studios in eight countries on five continents, photographing hair on male and female heads, hands, necks, chests and other assorted body parts, public and private. The result is "Haare" or "Hair," an exhibit of 120 photographs, a video and an installation at the Museum of Applied Arts in Hamburg. The exhibit is in Hamburg through Nov. 18, and will move to the Villa Stuck museum in Munich in March.
The accompanying 176-page book is published in German and English by Hatje Cantz.
The images run the gamut, from abstract close-ups of the structure of hair to meditations on the lack of it. Koelbl reveals hair where it shouldn't be — a female breast or face. Or hair in overabundance, as in the Mortitia-like Moscow mother and daughter who wear their knee-length hair like dresses, or the young woman whose mane, matted like a sheep's, reaches to her ankles, held tucked over her arm like a blanket or sweeping like a broom when she walks down the street.
There are shrunken heads, shaven and scarred heads, wigs worn backwards, curlicued beards, pubic tattoos, knotted and braided hair, punk dyed hair, not to mention a room wallpapered, as it were, with small-format photos of "reality as seen from the other side," as she puts it.
Koelbl shot the backs of 350 different heads, illustrating the full range of her subject's color, texture and style. But Koelbl, whose photographic projects and published works have put German living rooms, big women, power people seen over an eight-year period, victims, men and German TV's leading female police inspectors, among others, behind her lens, is not only interested in the visual aspects of hair.Her readings in cultural history divulged Japanese versions of Rapunzel, just one of the world's many shared tales, myths and religious passages, she notes, concerning the power, beauty and eroticism of hair. -Melissa Drier
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