White Women, Black Hairstyles

Endia Beal’s Portraits of White Women with “Black” Hairstyles

Beal hopes "Can I Touch It?" will add to the national conversation about race

by Slate, October 16, 2013

White Women, Black Hairstyles

White Women, Black Hairstyles

It almost sounds like the opening line to a joke: A young Black woman takes a bunch of middle-aged White women who she doesn’t know in Woodstock, N.Y., to a Black salon, gives them a new “Black” hairdo, and then takes their portrait.

Although photographer Endia Beal laughs freely while discussing “Can I Touch It?” the point of the series that she worked on this summer during a five-week residency with the Center for Photography at Woodstock isn’t about getting laughs. The rules were simple: After getting their new styles, the women had to agree to be photographed in a traditional corporate portrait, even if they weren’t happy with the result. Beal decided not to give the women an option of choosing a style.

“I said, ‘I am going to give you a Black hairstyle,’ and they were like, ‘You’re going to give me cornrows?’ ” Beal recalled of her conversations with her subjects. “And I said, ‘No, we’re going to do finger waves.’ ‘Finger waves? What’s that? You mean from the ’20s?’ And I said, ‘These are a little bit different type of finger waves!’ ”

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