These Intimate Portraits Celebrate the Beauty and Versatility of Black Men’s Hair
“My Trinidadian roots have always made me explore and be interested in hair,” says New York–based photographer Kadar Small. “I have always seen articles on Black hair, but particularly for women. [There is] not a lot embracing Black hair on Black men.” To help address this gap, Small—who has shot for Essence, i-D, and Calvin Klein, among others—got to work on a photo series, To the Root, which aims to reconstruct what society thinks when they see a Black man’s hair.
“Identity for Black men is something we have always struggled with, not because we don’t understand who we are, but because of what society tries to make us out to be,” he says. “From the way we walk to the way we dress, we are highly stereotyped and profiled by white supremacy.” In a declaration of beauty and celebration of versatility, Small shot a number of portraits of men he street-casted around his New York City neighborhood of Bedford-Stuyvesant, in Brooklyn, aiming to show them in various settings that evoke joy—at the basketball court, on a swing set.
“From Afros to coils, cornrows to twists and locs to everything in between, these are just a few of the many different styles Black men practice that represent freedom and value,” Small explains. “For years, we were and still are left to feel less than human. By wearing our hair in these different styles, it speaks volume to our identity and roots.”
Small’s own hair journey has had an influence on his work and this series in particular. He loved his hair from a young age and would play around with different cuts and colors often, but he experienced prejudice at school. “When I was younger, my mother added beads to my cornrows. She got complaints from the teacher that it was ‘distracting’ to the other kids. It was very confusing to me how it was distracting to them when it was just different,” Small remembers. His Trinidadian family members are always changing up their looks and embracing their culture. “It was very surprising and upsetting to me when I heard someone call locs ‘dirty’ for the first time in fourth grade while attending school in America,” he says. He realized the same hairstyles that Black men and women were condemned for, such as cornrows, were idealized when worn by white celebrities.
“It has been long overdue for us to start embracing everything about our culture as Black men,” Small says. Hair is just one place to start. “Don’t allow anyone to write your story. You are in control of the beginning, middle, and how your story ends.”