In his collection of portraits titled Hair Wars, NYC-based photographer David Yellen profiles traditional African American beauty parlor culture and invites us into a world of weaves and braids, where no style is too extreme.
The competitions, which began in the mid-'80s when stylist extraordinaire David Humphries (more commonly known as "Hump the Grinder") organized weekly events then known as the "Wednesday Night Hair Connection." He and a group of his flamboyant friends brought out the craziest 'dos to local clubs in Detroit and pushed each other to create hairstyles that were excessive to the most extreme degree. Over the years, the event gained mass appeal and by 1994 Hair Wars had turned into a national tour. The event has become so well recognized that an episode of "America's Next Top Model" used star Hair Wars artists to style one of their photo shoots .
The documentation of cultural niches is nothing new to Yellen. His book Too Fast For Love: Heavy Metal Portraits is a record of his travels with die-hard metal heads and their dedication to hard rock and the bands they idolize.
Yellen discovered the Hair Wars in 2004. After attending his first show, he was spellbound and set off on the road once again, touring the country to photograph the stylists and their creations.
The result is decidedly more than an account of back-combing and hairspray. Complex styles, created by wrapping, rolling, twisting and pinning layers of colorful hair extensions create what can only be described as works of art. Yellen captures the unconventional beauty and authenticity each stylist brings to the hair. Designers stop at nothing short of an over-sized paper maché flower or metal propeller to enhance their masterpiece. Yellen captures the true artistic quality of the hair styles and illustrates how each style is a stunning success, intricate and unique, with a great sense of humor. (For more images go here.)