In March 2015, Somerset House will present a series of portraits by photographer Mr Elbank in which all of the subjects sport a beard. Featuring over 80 images exhibited for the first time and exploring the art of grooming, the show will celebrate the enduring beard trend which has exploded across the world. The pogonophiles come from all corners of the globe and from all walks of life; it includes the famous facial hairs of actor John Hurt and models Ricki Hall and Billy Huxley, but also other interesting characters such as tattooist Miles Better and British woman Harnaam Kaur, who has been growing a beard since the age of 16 after being diagnosed with polycystic ovary syndrome, a condition which causes excess hair growth.
Much of Mr Elbank’s beard series will be recognisable to the social media generation after one of his early portraits of Australian charity campaigner Jimmy Niggles went viral and he became a social media sensation.
While living and working in Sydney, Mr Elbank shot a mens’ concept editorial for Kiwi magazine Black on beards – one of the first to recognise their rise in popularity. This resulted in a fascination with facial hair for Mr Elbank and he started seeking subjects for a personal photography project on beards.
Through a friend, he met Jimmy Niggles who told him about his charity initiative following the death of his close friend from skin cancer. Jimmy’s idea was to grow a beard as a conversation starter to spread the word about the preventable disease and share his friend’s story. To support Niggles’ cause, Mr Elbank started up #Project60 whereby he would photograph 60 people with beards to raise awareness of Niggles’ Beard Season and reach an international audience by seeding them on social networking sites. He received over 1,200 applications from people wanting to participate and those selected travelled to Mr Elbank’s rural Warwickshire home to sit for their portrait at their own expense. The #Project60 images have been widely shared on social media and have encouraged viewers to go for skin checks which can prove lifesaving.
The exhibition will encompass Mr Elbank’s original collection of works, #Project60, plus new and unseen photographs shot specially for the Somerset House show, bringing them all together for the first time.