Photographer Thomas Knights is dispelling all stereotypes and is initiating a minor social revolution with the launch of his project RED HOT. Thomas Knights has been photographing ginger models over the past 3 years, with the aim being to revoke all negative imagery associated with the hair colour. The images will be on show at The Gallery in Shoreditch this week. With much media attention garnered worldwide, even before the launch, the exhibition promises to be a step towards change in terms of ginger-phobia. Schön! caught up with the photographer, and had a ginger-to-ginger discussion about the history of abuse inflicted on ginger hair, marketing it as desirable, and taking steps towards change.
This exhibition is definitely a first. How did the idea for RED HOT come about?
I’m ginger myself and have always felt we have an unfair wrap in popular culture. How often is the undesirable character in films ginger? They’re never the heart throb, never the hero and never the action star. I’ve had this exhibition – which is essentially a marketing campaign – in mind for 5 or 6 years now, and I’ve been shooting it for 2 to 3 years. When I came up with the RED HOT name I knew I was onto something… so long as I nailed the photography.
I started the project off with the only ginger male models in London. There were less than 4 of them, or something. Now every agency has a couple. They are exotic and unusual – but critically, they are now desirable in the fashion world and having a ‘moment’. Then I street cast and found guys on Facebook and on recommendations etc.
Last year you held an exhibition on London’s nightlife characters, you’ve worked extensively in fashion photography and in music videos … How does this exhibition relate to your previous work?
My work always has a strong narrative or message behind it. It also often looks quite Pop and doesn’t take itself too seriously. I love advertising and love taking an undesirable product to then make it cool – just through photography and marketing.
Given the history of abuse inflicted upon red heads, do you feel the social message behind your project is predominant?
There is a serious reason behind RED HOT. The guys are presented as heroes, not victims. For it to work, I had to focus on the solution, not the problem. The images are all very heroic and confident, and dispell the myth of the harangued, unconfident and undesirable ginger guy.
So no, it’s secondary, but underpinning it all is this hint of inequality and a message for change.
What with the first Ginger Pride March in Edinburgh this year, and the success of the exhibition so far (even before the launch), do you feel there is a raised awareness on the beauty of ginger hair at the moment?
Totally. It was always going to happen eventually. It seems everything has been done to death and every idea is recycled and re-hashed, but I couldn’t find anyone who had done anything similar to RED HOT. It also means so much, to so many people now, so I have a duty to keep the torch alight – so to speak.
I have are major plans for 2014 – including a world tour of the exhibition and a coffee table book among many more things. Ultimately all I’m striving towards is an equal playing field with everyone else.
How does it feel to be part of a 1% worldwide minority?
Anything different tends to get noticed and as people with ginger hair account for just 1 or 2% of the world population, it’s bound to cause a reaction. I’m not sure why in the UK this rarity has caused such strong a disdain, whereas in South America it is adored and loved. Maybe it’s a cultural thing, it certainly is the case that the prejudice and discrimination towards pale skin and ginger hair has been allowed to exist quite publicly. What’s more scary is that this persecution is widely accepted. Friends from Scandinavia and France were shocked to learn of the way the UK treats ginger hair. They just don’t get how people get away with the openness of the bullying and that no one sticks up for them. It really is rather ingrained now, and ginger guys don’t really defend themselves anymore…until now…
And finally, if you had to pick one Ginger idol, dead or alive, who would it be?
Cilla Black, obviously!
Words / Patrick Clark