Twin Magazine have published a series of images from my project ‘Wefts & Tracks’ - a celebration of afro-hair salons in Peckham, London in their latest issue. Out now. With write up by journalist, Lynda Cowell -
‘Peckham, south-east London. There are over 20 black hair salons in this part of town, each one as invisible as the next to the oblivious passer-by, but to the owners and clientele, these places are life. It’s where hairdos happen and weaves come true but more than that, they’re community comfort zones for women, young and old, from all parts of the diaspora. Behind the braids, relaxes, and dog-eared magazines, the black salon is a home from home.
The first black hairdressers in Britain is thought to be Carmen Maingot’s hair-straightening salon in South Kensington. It flourished when opened in 1955 but Winifred Atwell’s salon, opened in 1957, soon upstaged it. Atwell was Britain’s first black, female chart-topper and all-round piano genius. A Queen Mother favourite whose hands were insured for £40,00 she was never off the stage or British television. With a career demanding 24-hour glamour, the distinct lack of black hair salons forced her to open her own on Railton Road in Brixton. Aimed at the growing West Indian population, it was a much-needed slice of luxury. ‘In those days,’ said one former client, ‘there were no black salons for black women in this country, black women styled their hair in their kitchens.’
Fast-forward through the sleek 1950s, afroed 1970s and Jheri-curled perms of the 1980s to the present day and not much has changed. Even the fact that black women spend six times more on haircare, change styles more often and spend far more time in hair salons has had little impact on the wider industry. A history of reluctance to welcome black custom in white hair salons and the age-old fear of afros has played a big part in keeping the black hair salon alive.
If you’ve ever been to such a place, Sophie Green’s photography project, ‘Wefts & Tracks’ will feel so familiar, you can almost smell the braid sheen, catch the jokes and hear the TV in the background. To the uninitiated, like Sophie, it’s a glimpse into a different world.
Sophie says it was one of the most difficult projects she’s ever done. Gaining access to the salons was sometimes difficult and persuading people that she wanted to seriously document something usually overlooked was hard. ‘It was absolutely my intention to capture a positive reflection of the community to honour the people I encountered and represent them truthfully and respectfully,’ she says.
As someone who’d never even stepped foot into a black hair salon, what first struck Sophie was the absolute spirit of community. ‘In Peckham, the afro-hair salons stand out as hubs of life – the vibrant energy of Blenheim Grove is palpable,’ she says. ‘People infiltrate these salons as much for the social life as the services. I felt moved to capture the spirit of these salon environments.’