AN AWESOME SHOWCASE OF BEAUTY
A national photography exhibition celebrating natural hair touring America
When award-winning portrait and documentary photographer Jason Miccolo Johnson saw several beautiful women with natural hairstyles at a vegan brunch, two of them inspired him to write a poem and do an entire exhibition on the beauty of natural hair wearers. He would call the project Yours Naturally: Beauty That Grows on You – a double entendre on the beauty that literally grows on your head, as well as, given enough time, the eventual acceptance of natural hairstyles as being beautiful by those who may presently have doubts.
That was Fourth of July weekend 2013. The first photo shoot for the exhibition took place in December 2013 followed by a preview exhibition at the Leica Camera Store Gallery in Washington, DC in June of 2014. The exhibition will be traveling to universities, heritage festivals, museums, cultural centers, galleries, and natural hair expos over the next several years.
Yours Naturally: Beauty That Grows on You is the first national photography exhibition that pays homage to the natural hair movement spreading across America and celebrate women of the African Diaspora who wear their hair naturally. It will change not only the way they see themselves, but how others perceive them.
Sunday, April 26, is the last day to see the exhibition in Washington, DC at the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library where it has been hanging in the front windows since March 25, 2015. The library is the third stop on the national tour that began in Hampton, Virginia and later went to Savannah State University.
“An awesome showcase of beauty”, “an inspiration,” and “a great exhibition to bring your children to” are just some of the feedback received about Yours Naturally. The comment book at the Martin Luther King Jr. library is filled with page after page of evocative and emotional testimonies of praise, reflection, thanks, and celebration for Jason Miccolo Johnson – for doing the exhibition, and for the sheer beauty of the images. Men and women alike are blown away by the dignity in the faces of the models and the quality of the photographs – the accurate skin colors, the sharpness of focus.
Johnson has 40 years of experience in knowing how to make an attention-grabbing portrait starting in high school taking pictures of classmates and working on the student newspaper. His early photographic influences were Gordon Parks, Ernest Withers, and the Hooks Brothers of Memphis. He read every book he could find on photography in his school’s library and at a downtown camera store. He would go on to join the Navy, work for USA Today, and establish a solid freelance business doing assignments for major newspapers, magazines, and national organizations and see his photographs used in 30 books, five films, and exhibited in group shows on four continents.
Johnson said, “one of the goals of Yours Naturally is to allow women of the African Diaspora to celebrate their natural beauty through their natural hairstyles in a self-validating way.” The exhibition features 20 x 30 inch color portraits of 30 women with a variety of natural hairstyles, textures, complexions, sizes and ages, from 20 to 70 years old. They represent a diversity of professions including doctors, makeup artists, lawyers, corporate executives, teachers, and entrepreneurs.
The women were photographed in the studio as well as in everyday settings sporting Bantu knots, locs, two-strand twists, Afros, and braids. One outdoors photo features a lovely smiling 20 something in fitted sports wear on a bicycle rocking a short curly twist shown blowing in the wind across her face. While another photo depicts an elderly woman in a profile photo looking very regal wearing gray and black Bantu knots.
Though Yours Naturally is about showcasing beautiful natural hair, the exhibition has another important goal. “It offers an extraordinary opportunity for women of the African Diaspora to have public conversations about private thoughts surrounding health, fitness, nutrition, self-esteem, and beauty standards in popular culture, particularly as it relates to hair,” said Johnson.
Jason Miccolo Johnson is perhaps best recognized for his trademark visual call-and-response shooting style where the focus is on the subject’s eyes and hands. While in high school, he bought his first professional camera at a pawnshop with money earned over the summer chopping cotton. Now, his photographs are in the permanent collections of the Smithsonian Institution, The St. Louis Museum of Art, and The Museum of Fine Arts, Houston. Johnson is the author of the best seller Soul Sanctuary: Images of the African American Worship Experience (foreword by Gordon Parks).
In 2014, Johnson received a Distinguished Alumni Award from Howard University, and in 2003, he was a recipient of an ArtMaker Award from the HistoryMakers. In additional to touring the Yours Naturally exhibition, Johnson is working on two other books including a companion to the exhibition. His work can be viewed at www.jasonmiccolojohnson.com.