You know that strange feeling when one little idea grows and grows to become much more than you expected, and suddenly you find yourself snowballing down a huge hill at 110km/hour?
It all began when an artist, named Helen Beasley, was looking for a photographer to volunteer to collaborate on a project called ‘Turning Heads” – a project aimed at raising awareness of Alopecia sufferers and promoting a positive self image through artwork and photos. Helen rang up a local photography store and was referred to me… who luckily happened to live just 2 minutes down the road! I really admired the concept of the project and wanted to see what I could do with it when put to the challenge. And so it began!
After shoots with a number of models (ageing from 2 years – 60 years), through all seasons of the year, we finally had a series of images that captured each person’s personality and reflected on how they had coped with the condition. The Australia Alopecia Areata Foundation (AAAF) became involved, and based on the success of the whole project, offered to fly us to Melbourne for AAAF awareness day. At the same time, an article was published in That’s Life! magazine featuring Helen’s work and my photograph. Suddenly a small local project had escalated!
In Melbourne, we had 4 volunteers, all of similar age to myself, come in to have their heads adorned with henna, in a design of their choice. This was the first time many of the girls had ever gone in front of people (and the public!) without their wigs. Many of the designs included their own symbols of strength and beauty – it was just captivating to watch Helen apply the designs with her intricate skills.
The comments we received from all our models were incredibly uplifting – many felt like this was a catalyst for them finally accepting themselves and their condition.
There was one specific girl on AAAF awareness day who really stood out in mind. She was in Year 9 at school and had been involved with the AAAF for quite a while, always being so incredibly helpful and supportive with others who joined the community. I snapped some photos of this gorgeous girl, and she received ongoing comments of her beautiful artwork, modelling features and how beautiful and infectious her smile was. It wasn’t until the end of the day that someone explained to me that up until now she wouldn’t even let her own mother see her without a wig, being too ashamed of the condition. Today had actually been the first day she had let ANYONE see her without a wig, let alone a whole community of people! I was deeply touched by this story and how she finally found the strength to accept herself – something I won’t forget.
This project has run over the whole of 2012, and it really has been one of the many highlights of my life so far. Meeting so many inspirational people, all of whom are a constant reminder to me of how beauty is really defined – by our personalities, values and souls. I feel so privileged to have been a part of it all.
Here is my summary of the Turning Heads Project through a series of images – hope the beauty of these girls brings a smile to your face like it does to mine 🙂