Photographing Liverpool women and their hair curlers

In 2019, Jermaine Francis traveled to Liverpool, spending his Saturday afternoons documenting a little-known beauty culture – at least outside the surroundings of the North West City of the Great. Brittany -: women going about their daily business with rollers in their hair. It is a very common sight in the city, however. It’s part a process – getting ready for a party – and part a performance, as the women bustle about town. To set the footage he created (together with Paul Owen, an academic from John Moores University in Liverpool, who accompanied him during the filming), here Liverpool-born curator Louise Shannon and Magda Keaney of the National Portrait Gallery discuss Jermaine’s new body of work…

Louise Shannon: Looking at Jermaine’s images of women with rollers in their hair in the streets of Liverpool, I get a strong sense of admiration. I love the total dedication to the idea that they will look as good as possible later that night, and they don’t care if you see this process. I’m impressed with the care and attention given to the outings – tan, eyebrows, lashes, makeup, hair – and the lack of self-awareness that comes with showing off in rollers. My perception of this amazing culture is also really that the women of Liverpool are ready to take up space as they please. They are busy and they cannot be locked inside.
Magda Keaney: The other thing I notice is the collective nature of it. If a person wore scrolls it would seem odd, but it’s obviously very common in Liverpool. So that makes me think of looking: how do people in Liverpool notice or stare at women walking past them on a Saturday afternoon with curlers in their hair?

woman with rollers in her hair

There are women who wouldn’t dream of going out like this; others would not think about it a second time. But it passes almost without notice. Maybe it’s a real expression to not really care what people think of you because you will look like a pop star in six hours.
Do you think there is a conscious awareness of what is happening as a thing? Is it performative or practical?

There are women who saw Jermaine take pictures. There is a little smile, a knowing look, a feeling of pride in being caressed, perhaps? Jermaine mentioned that none of the women who noticed him and the camera asked him where the footage would end. I think there is a feeling that it comes from Liverpool, certainly as a contemporary beauty culture. Jermaine even noted when he started to notice these rolls appearing outside of Liverpool, he quickly recognized the Scouse accent that accompanied them.
Some women have full makeup on and some more nude in the pictures, and I wonder if that suggests that why you might be going out with your rollers on could depend on who you are? Practicality for some; for others, a performance? To keep the idea of ​​looking, how do you think these women would react to seeing their images in a fashion magazine?

woman with rollers in her hair

The power is in these women who choose to present themselves on the streets like this – does this agency still exist when they are published in a magazine? Jermaine describes this work as a love letter to Liverpool, a portrayal of a dedication to glamor, but it can appear differently. In the street, it is on the conditions of the individual, it is his environment. When it is published, this context changes, the gaze refocuses. Context is therefore important. Women can be totally confused as to the value of showing the process. Why not capture them later, in town, at the height of their glamor?
It’s really interesting and reminds me of Diane Arbus who photographed a trans person in hair curlers in the 1960s. It’s not taken in public; the model is certainly aware that the image is being created. In fact, we do not see anything of the home environment of the babysitter. I think the idea of ​​the transformation process is what the scrolls mean, but there is a tension between male and female that isn’t particularly tender or empathetic from Diane’s perspective.

Then I think of the school of post-war photojournalists in England who went up north and photographed poverty in industrial towns in the ’60s and’ 70s. These guys (and they were usually male) were looking for topics that offered a particular aesthetic and often presented them in a way that matched the narrative. It’s a big difference. Women in rollerblades have become a type. There is also a fashion context and this is important because I would say that it is in fashion that we find the most sustained presentation of images of women in relation to the city which is not on reality. but on the celebration of style.

Jermaine told me he was touring for several months every Saturday, so he became a bit of a staple. He expected people to approach him to take pictures, but no one ever did. I like to think about how women live in cities. Outside of the fashion context, there aren’t a lot of photographic projects that I can think of to respond to women in the city.

woman with rollers in her hair

It is present everywhere in Liverpool, we see it everywhere in the city, and also in the small towns of the North West. I must admit that I had a moment’s hesitation before seeing the images, and before talking about the project to Jermaine. The legacy of the shame of women, especially working class women, is something that has existed and continues. I am proud to be born in Liverpool and to raise my children there. The shame of women in Liverpool, working class or whatever, is almost seen as a sport. The Grand National seems to attract more attention from the men and women who fall at the first hurdle, drunk at noon. The sport practiced is cruel at best.
The allusion to horse racing is excellent – of course both elite and working class madness and also because of the Ladies Day event in Aintree where you see the end product. Everyone was dressed to perfection, their hair combed, looking glamorous, and the other side messy for some. As you say, there is a lot of bad press around which has contributed to a negative stereotype.

Thinking in this direction reminds me of photographs of university students at Oxbridge by British photographer Dafydd Jones, where the wealthy behave in essentially the same way; dressing for the party, drinking too much, passing out, your friends have pulled your pants down, but he’s a lark. The “elites” do not seem to respond in the same way for “bad behavior”. Jones’ images were taken in Thatcher’s Britain and he described them as documenting the “last hurray of the upper classes.”

I love that Jermaine’s footage reminds us that Liverpool women always have fun. In closing, I wanted to ask what the job might say about being a woman at Liverpool today?

I cannot speak for all the women of Liverpool, but for the women around me and my family it would be that pride in appearance is both paramount and apparently a paradox – the state of being “undone. “on the way to the height of glamor and beauty. Maybe it’s a sense of belonging, part of an identity that is as funny as it is uncompromising. It is an interest for fashion but also for beauty. I think there is an old-fashioned sense of pride in the appearance here. I notice it from the casual sport to how some kids are dressed to their best Sunday every day. As Jermaine told me, he hopes that within the framework of this magazine these women become stars in their own right and that their portrayal is celebrated as shameless, real and normal.

woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair
woman with rollers in her hair

Credits


Photography Jermaine François
Special thanks Paul Owen