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Endia Beal’s Portraits of White Women with “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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