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Max Heilbronn Trim buzzcut dyed hair
Hair by Ami Fall and Alfie Charles VincentPhotography Max Heilbronn

These photos show the enduring appeal of the colourful buzzcut

Photographer Max Heilbronn documents the young Londoners expressing themselves through their brightly hued hairstyles

“I am interested in how hairstyles become a non-permanent, fleeting statement that can be made about your identity, on your body for as long or as short as you desire, and then can be changed or eradicated,” says photographer Max Heilbronn. “The temporality of using your hair as a canvas to express to the world your personality and how you see yourself is especially fascinating.”

It was this kind of self-expression that Heilbronn wanted to capture and document in his new series of photographs, which explore the bleach movement among London youth. Joined by hair stylists Alfie Charles Vincent, Janina Zais and Ami Fall, who created the colourful designs on the models (and in Fall’s case, herself), he set out to show people’s profound desire for physical expression. “It was important for me to not cast models but rather use young Londoners who had already been experimenting with this mode of self-expression,” he says. “Some of the subjects were friends and some were complete strangers who later became friends.”

The result is a series of images which showcase a range of joyful, colourful designs – animal prints, stars, hearts, abstract swirls – and delight in the freedom and confidence that can come from having your outer appearance perfectly match how you feel inside, even if it’s just for that one fleeting moment. “What I loved about the people involved in the project is that they understood that in the end, it’s only hair and that it’s good sometimes, no matter how you’re feeling, to shave the entire thing,” says Heilbronn. “To bring some colour, to bring some freedom.” Here Heilbronn, Fall and Vincent share their thoughts about the images, and the inspirations behind the most colourful designs.

How long have you been taking pictures?

Max Heilbronn: I’ve been taking pictures for many years, but my passion for it really consolidated when I arrived in London three years ago. London felt like a new energy, and not knowing a lot of people here allowed me to challenge myself to shoot more and meet creatives around me. I also became invested in documentary-style photography when I went travelling for eight months with my older brother. This was exciting, as I wasn’t just taking pictures of my drunk 17-year-old friends anymore.

How did you become interested in bleached hair and buzzcuts?

Max Heilbronn: I was getting lost in who I was and how I identify, like all of us, and I got to a place where I only knew what I didn’t like, as opposed to what I loved. I was changing my hairstyle every few weeks and I was searching for new styles to try out, which is when I came across the work of brilliant hair artists such as Ami. These haircuts seemed more like artwork to me, and prompted me to start photographing them.

Did you try to match the looks to the models’ personality and style?

Alfie Charles Vincent: I always like to collaborate with my clients and let them pick their favourite colours. In this instance, they flicked through my work and chose a design from there.

Ami Fall: I generally take into consideration the models’ style and interests, but I would say the looks weren’t a direct expression of the models’ personalities. If anything, they were an expression of mine. I see the hair as a canvas for me to express myself, based on the request or prompt of the model.

Why do you think coloured buzzcuts are so popular at the moment?

Max Heilbronn: Lots of pop cultural men have experimented with their hair, like Dennis Rodman or even Tyler, the Creator. The options are also infinite. Far from previous classical hairstyles, you can choose any design or any colour you really love. Fuck, I sound like an advert.

Alfie Charles Vincent: You can paint anything on your head, people can say what they want, change the colour as often as they like. Brands are also realising they can use it in their advertising, while bands paint their album titles or logos on their heads. I paint AFC [Arsenal Football Club] on my mate’s head and we go to the game, then colour over it again before work on Monday. It’s like a temporary tattoo.

You mentioned young people’s desire for physical expression. Can you talk more about that?

Max Heilbronn: I don’t think it’s something new: young people have always had a desire to express themselves through dress or hairstyles, but in recent years, the strong binary aspect of gendered clothing and hairstyles have blurred, allowing for more experimentation and fun to be had, at least in western countries.

Do you think it’s still harder for men to express themselves through their appearance? 

Max Heilbronn: I wouldn’t say it’s harder, but socially it’s more restraining for young men to open up, be eccentric and play more with how they look. There is sometimes a toxicity that comes from masculine friendship groups that I believe can trap men into following a classical ideal of dressing or how they should have their hair.

Ami Fall: I’ve never experienced being a man, but if I had to guess, perhaps yes – there are certain style stigmas that still exist within certain communities in modern society, specifically to do with men’s hair and fashion. [Men I know] have said that generally there’s less acceptance when it comes to expressing themselves in an unconventional way.

Alfie Charles Vincent: The whole concept of masculinity and expression has shifted in recent years. You see it in fashion, art and even social media and this is just an extension of that and a mode of self-expression. I have a lot of male clients from different backgrounds and I can only thank them for putting their trust in me to use their hair as a canvas.

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