It seems like everywhere we look, we see facial hair and now Somerset House has opened its doors to award-winning photographer Mr Elbank whose exhibition centers around beards. However, Elbank’s work, a series of portraits of people with impressive and unique facial hair, does not pay homage to hipsters, nor does the artist want to be associated with fashion. The Beard exhibition transcends beyond that. The photographer refers to it as his “Love Project” in that he took the past year off in order to create this body of work for a good cause, his charity #Project60.
Mr Elbank has photographed bearded characters for decades now, with his first exhibition Facial, which was made up of more than 200 portraits. He was well ahead of the beard trend, and over the years has developed a cult following. His most famous photographs are of Australian charity campaigner Jimmy Niggles who grew a beard to raise awareness after losing his close friend to melanoma, skin cancer, and with that launched his charity “Beard Season”, a campaign that encourages people world wide to get regular skin checks. Elbank and Niggles have joined forces and formed #Project60, resulting in men from all over the world flying into London to pose their impressive facial hair for the photographer.
Aesthetically, what Mr Elbank’s is drawn to and which is communicated in his portraits, are the facial expressions visible through the facial hair, the eyes, the character of each individual face.
While most of his work is viral, the artist created an exclusive series of prints for Somerset House that cannot be found online. However, the photographer encourages viewers to take pictures of the photographs and post them on their social media accounts so as to spread the word, create awareness and get more and more people to get checked for melanoma – which is the core purpose of #Project60. What is more, Niggles is auctioning his beard and has committed to chopping it off for the first million raised.
Beyond the impressive artwork, what we find most thrilling is the trend that Elbank and Niggles are joining as more and more artists use their fame and social media following to create awareness for good causes.
Another example of such an artist is Mouna Rebeiz, who last month exhibited her work at the Saatchi Gallery. Her exhibition Le Tarbouche celebrated women, sensuality and power. The Tarbouche (or fez hat) being the male symbol across the Middle East, draws contrast to the female form in her paintings and expresses female as a complex combination of the submissive, the sophisticated and the vulnerable. The artist collaborated with luminaries from the fashion industry such as Lanvin, Kimmy Choo and Ellie Saab (only to name a few), who reinvented a Tarbouche in their own style to be auctioned by Sotheby’s following the exhibition. All in association with and in support of the artist’s charity Innocence in Danger, a world movement for the protection of children against all forms of sexual abuse.
You can find out more about The Beard exhibition at Somerset House until March 29th at http://www.somersethouse.org.uk/visual-arts/beard.