Jeremy Rodney-Hall on The Hair Appointment

The Toronto-based photographer speaks about the loving intimacy of Black haircare

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018.

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018. © Jeremy Rodney-Hall. Image courtesy of the artist and Sunday School.

Since May 2023, AGO visitors have experienced the powerful imagery featured in three photographic series’, all produced by Sunday School, the creative agency founded by Josef Adamu. Together, The Hair Appointment (2018) by Jeremy Rodney-Hall, Ten Toes Down (2021) by Kreshonna Keane, and Jump Ball (2019–ongoing) by O’shane Howard and Joshua Kissi comprise Feels Like Home – an exhibition foregrounding community, fashion, and culture at the intersection of art and education. Curated by Emilie Croning, AGO Curatorial Assistant, Arts of Global Africa and the Diaspora, Feels Like Home exemplifies the unique and vibrant reflections of Black identity often communicated by Sunday School’s creative projects. 

Jeremy Rodney-Hall’s The Hair Appointment is a stunning series of seven photographs and one looping video by Shaheen Soofi celebrating Black womanhood, intimately illustrated through by  Black hair. Four photographs in the series enshrine the cultural significance of intergenerational hair care, depicting a mother lovingly braiding her daughter’s hair in preparation for school.  The daughter later appears in uniform sporting her new hairstyle. Soofi’s looping video is displayed on a small monitor within the exhibition. It’s a fragmented motion capture of the same photoshoot, adding further dimension to the images. The remaining three photographs are profile portraits featuring Black women, whose intricately braided hairstyles create complex silhouettes.       

Before Feels Like Home’s exhibition run ends on June 16 at the AGO, Rodney-Hall spoke to Foyer about the creation of this series, his approach to photography and his evolving definition of “home”.  

The Hair Appointment celebrates and enshrines some of the cultural practices/processes surrounding Black hair and does so through an intergenerational lens. How involved were you in the creative decisions of the project? Can you describe what your process and goals were when shooting it? 

My involvement with the creative decisions of the project was high. After we shot the series, I came straight home to edit the images. I took a bus from Toronto to New York City on a Friday to arrive for 6 am and shoot from 8 am until 4:30 pm. I then took a nap and headed on the first bus back home. Quick trip – quick execution. The goal was to be as natural as possible in the editing and shooting process. My mentality at the time was to capture their essence. The main image everyone sees as they walk into the gallery was not a posed moment but a directed one. I prompted the two of them to be in the moment, combing hair, to invest themselves in the process allowing us to capture the moment naturally. I took roughly three pictures and the last two were the images that ended up being used. 

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018.

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018. © Jeremy Rodney-Hall. Image courtesy of the artist and Sunday School.

 

This exhibition asks viewers the question, “what does home mean to you?” How would you answer that question personally, and how do you feel The Hair Appointment reflects notions of “home”? 

Home to me is a place where I have always felt comfortable and have experienced many emotions. Love, sadness, embarrassment, joy, togetherness, and so many more. I grew up in a home where – to this day – family gatherings are held every Saturday, as they have been for the past 50 years. I still live in the same home I was partly raised in – home is everything. However, lately I’ve taken the stance of home being more than my physical location, and it being anywhere I’m with the people I feel most “at home” while around. People who make a point of understanding me as I love to understand them, and together we create a home and a safe space for one another.  

The Hair Appointment – specifically the images of the young girls getting their hair braided and posing in their uniform – reflect notions of home for me; seeing my sister and mom braid each other’s hair, and my mom braiding my hair when it was longer. I remember those moments dearly. The times we had while trying to get this wild, beautiful, tangled, black and incredible hair down on to our heads, just to fit into a night scarf for bed. And that’s just to sleep, I won’t even get into how much of a process it would be to do the same hair to go out! I think everyone sees a bit of that in The Hair Appointment.  

How would you describe your photography philosophy? How do you approach the medium? What do you hope viewers see in your work? 

My philosophy is simple: Tell the truth. I did not get into photography initially to turn it into a commercial venture, but more so to remember the world around me and find a way to make it look a lot better than it felt to me. Photography was a way of grieving my grandmother’s diagnosis, her having a brain tumour, and then losing her memory due to dementia. She was the first person I knew in my family with a camera and every picture she took of me, and our family helped us see ourselves in moments where we were simply living life. I approach photography as a fly on the wall. I want people to feel like they are getting a look into someone’s personal life, thoughts or feelings without any words being said. What I hope viewers of my work see in my images is – hopefully – themselves. The goal is for others to feel and be seen. 

 

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018.

Jeremy Rodney-Hall, The Hair Appointment, 2018. © Jeremy Rodney-Hall. Image courtesy of the artist and Sunday School.

What can people look forward to from you in the near future? 

I am now completely taken over by my true love, music, which has informed a huge part of my photography process. I have been working on a project for the last five years – since 2019 – and I look forward to sharing it. I now go by the name Nylo Carter and ironically Feels Like Home at the AGO was the last of my side photography missions I wanted to complete before pursuing music 100%. Visuals will still be a huge part of my way of expression but going forward that will happen more through directing my own music videos and building my visual world. Rich Luv is my new imprint and I plan to use it to spread love and positivity around the globe through music. We’ve all been down pretty bad the past couple of years due to the pandemic and there’s been a lot of pessimism around love and relationships. Hopefully, my music can do something about changing that and make it fun for people to fall in love again. 

Feels Like Home is on view until June 16 on Level 2 (gallery 248) of the AGO.  Read our interviews with curator Emilie Croning, Sunday School founder and Creative Director Josef Adamu, and photographers O’shane Howard and Kreshonna Keane.

Read Foyer

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