Hot pink has never looked more masculine than in the photography of Beards Of New York creator Greg Salvatori. Juxtaposing masculinity and femininity in a series of eye-catching shots, Salvatori’s work features a selection of bearded guys posing in front of a shocking fuchsia backdrop.
“Hot pink is the quintessentially girly, Barbie doll color,” Salvatori explains. “I wanted it to contrast with the beard and create a masculine/feminine effect. Hot pink also brings out the features in each men, their beards, their tattoos, their muscles.” Besides this, Salvatori explains that the shade of pink is also intended to conjure images of candy shops, where the men are displayed as though they’re in a shop window. “[Hot pink] makes everything loud and joyful and literally eye candy,” Salvatori says. “Each of these men is on display. You pick your favourites.”
But while the pink may be striking, it led to some men refusing to take part, uncomfortable being photographed against such a ‘feminine’ colour. Here lies an important lesson about the nature of modern masculinity, so fragile that just a colour is able to bring it crashing down.
Challenging notions of masculinity is one of the aims of the Beards Of New York Project, and Salvatori was granted a unique insight into modern conceptions of masculine normativity. “I discovered that masculinity is an incredibly fragile thing, often made of dos and don’ts. It has judgment built in,” he says. “We often use ‘masculine’ to mean strong, successful, rational, ambitious, fit. We often use ‘feminine’ to mean weak, loser, emotional, unambitious, underdeveloped. Do we really think the average man is more ambitious than Madonna, more successful than Oprah or more rational than Angela Merkel?”
By asking men to pose against the pink background, Salvatori asks them to confront their fear of the feminine. Those who were up to the challenge, Salvatori says, were the most masculine of all. “I think the most masculine men are not afraid of other people’s judgment the same way they are not afraid of pink,” he explains. “They are busy building the best version of themselves, whatever their unique and individual definition of ‘masculine’ might be.”
Gender politics aside, the project is in part a celebration of the beard itself. Beards of all different shapes, sizes and colours are on display here, an example of the ‘lumbersexual’ aesthetic that has proved a popular trend over the last few years. But are the days of the beard numbered? “It’s really hard to say,” Salvatori says, a bearded guy himself. “But most men in the book have had a beard for a lifetime, so it’s a part of who they are more than a trend.”
Shooting in the Big Apple, Salvatori got to meet and work with a wide variety of guys, aiming to represent the diversity of New York. While the experience was overwhelmingly positive, some of the models channeled their inner Mariah Careys with their diva demands. “I’ve got the super narcissistic ones, the crazy ones, the religious ones, the let-me-tell-you-how-you-should-do-this ones,” Salvatori says. “Some people came and gave me attitude, convinced that everything in the world is about them.”
But the majority of guys were well-behaved and keen to understand the ideas behind the concept. “It’s always a surprise when I open the door, I really can’t predict how a day in the studio will be like,” Salvatori says. “Some men showed up with doughnuts and coffee or a bottle of wine, wanting to show their appreciation.” But while Salvatori is grateful to all his models, I wonder which ones are his favourites. His answer? “The ones with wine of course!”