On Photography – Part Two

In my earlier post on photography, I mentioned that I’d worked on some photoshoots with Barry Lategan for Italian Vogue, and started getting more freelance work. Then I realized that you can’t run a salon in NYC if you want to be successful and be skipping out on photoshoots all the time, unless you were fortunate enough to get the kind of jobs that would have clients knocking down the doors to get in. Which is sort of what happened, because I found a niche with two magazines in particular: Glamour, one of the most popular magazines for young women at the time, and a slightly edgier one called Mademoiselle. They let me do a lot of work for them, and it absolutely brought people in to get their hair cut. By 1985 we became a really hot salon – we were completely busting at the seams. Somewhere around that time I learned to take pictures. It wasn’t so much that I’d learned exactly, but it was like I downloaded it and suddenly I knew how to take photos.

We started taking photographs to document makeovers. It was about 1985, and my girlfriend Stacy would send me her friends to get their picture taken, and I got more confident. It wouldn’t be unfair to say I was “inspired by” but more honestly copying Peter Lindbergh, I loved his style. I loved Lartigue, who’s completely different, but there was some joy in all his pictures. I loved Bruce Weber, Herb Ritts. I told people then, and I still would say now, that I didn’t make the picture, I just captured it. They were making the picture with the hair, which had to have some wow to it.

Now 20 years later, I sort of understand why I think that the imagery of a beauty company, particularly a hair company, has to be modeled on the fashion world. I don’t ever see hair companies with photography that’s inspiring or speaks to the moment in time that we’re in. That’s exactly what fashion companies do, and that’s why they do two campaigns a year and spend so much money on advertising. It gives you an idea of, “I’m that kind of person.” What I’m trying to say is, one of the big reasons we were successful at Bumble was the photography that we did. It was a series of portraits that were probably half of non-models, half of models, and we were able to get outside a lot. One of the most impressive as a brand-building exercise was the Surf Spray shoot. We jumped on an airplane to Miami with the bottles, cast the models there – there was no storyboard, no planning. If we were musicians it would be a jam session. I just hopped around taking pictures of everyone – I liked to be the observer and just record the whole thing on tons and tons of black and white film. There was an amazing energy that we were creating, it was more of an interactive creative session than a photoshoot. It was just the perfect moment where the name, Surf Spray, and the way we did hair came together flawlessly. Bottle, product, picture, boom. That was and still is, to me, one of the best campaigns any hair company has ever done, that supported a product.

Bb. Surf Spray shoot, 2001

Bb. Surf Spray shoot, 2001

Later, we bought this Canon laser copier, this massive thing that cost 50,000 dollars, and all it did was make color copies. It enabled us to create promotional material by hand that we would send to magazines. Seventeen Magazine asked us to do a photoshoot for them, and we just packaged the whole thing. I guess we didn’t realize that we were creating content for the magazine and for ourselves at the same time. This went on for quite a while, and we just became well known for creating an image for someone. I think that was why Bumble was so successful, it was saying so much without using words. We did books called Hair Stories at Bumble, and in the last one I was involved with, Number 4, we had photos we’d taken twenty years earlier, and then we’d done a new version. The new version was almost exactly the same, just the clothes and styling had changed a bit. So, while we were considered cool, downtown, and all that stuff, we were actually quite classic in a way, and that was a good thing. I think, dare I say it, that most companies don’t understand the power of photography.

The Graduated Bob in 2004, from Bb. Hair Stories No. 4

The Graduated Bob in 2004, from Bb. Hair Stories No. 4

The Graduated Bob in 1986, from Bb. Hair Stories No. 4

The Graduated Bob in 1986, from Bb. Hair Stories No. 4

I have a great memory of one of our best hairdressers ever, Howard McClaren, bringing his brother Raymond in from Scotland. I looked at Howard and he said, “Oh yeah, we gave him a job.” In those days Raymond was very quiet, he even wore a suit for a few days, and he had trained in a salon in the Sassoon method. At Bumble at this point we had two walls that were completely covered with a grid of photos. One was facing the front window where people came in, so if they just wanted to look in the window at the pictures they could. In the back we had a floor-to-ceiling grid, opposite from the hair washing station, filled with pictures with Bumble credited from different editorial hairdressers. I saw that Raymond used to stand in front of those photos and just look. This went on for a long time, and his whole style and approach to hair changed. He adopted the razor cutting that his brother had introduced, along with my ideas, and took his interpretation of it to a different level. He was like a mad artist, a genius with the razor. When I asked him about how he’d re-taught himself, he said that he used to look at the photographs and try to reverse engineer how he would cut the hair so that that the stylist could achieve that interesting result. I thought it was amazing that he was so inspired by a picture that he saw in a magazine that it would actually cause him to cut hair differently. As many people know he really is an extraordinary talent. And it taught me something – it taught me about the power of imagery and what it can do, and how it took these hairdressers’ work and made it an ingredient of the salon. There was a virtuous cycle of creativity, and it made Bumble different. It made it very different.

Michael with camera

Michael with camera

Raymond and Howard McClaren

Raymond and Howard McClaren