Steven and his daughter Marlo pose together for The Redhead Project, which photographer Keith Barraclough started in 2013. Barraclough has taken photos of nearly 500 redheads across the United States.
Redheads stand out.
That’s what tends to happen when you make up just 1-2% of the entire human population.
The extra attention can be difficult to handle, especially growing up. There might be the occasional wisecrack. Sometimes it turns into bullying or harassment.
But redheads are also being celebrated more than ever before.
And then there’s The Redhead Project.
Since February 2013, photographer Keith Barraclough has been taking portraits of redheaded people across the United States. With the help of his wife, Kate Lorenz, he has photographed 490 redheads in nearly two dozen cities.
These striking images showcase the subjects’ red hair. But they also have a fun, quirky side, revealing each person’s unique style and personality.
Each person comes to the photo shoot with props — maybe their favorite clothing or items that reflect their hobbies and passion. Then they work with Barraclough on a series of shots together.
“Since it’s about them and it’s about who they are as a person, I really want them to be involved,” said the New York-based photographer, who is not a redhead and barely knew any redheads before starting this project.
The Redhead Project began as a simple promotional tool for Barraclough. He had photographed a man on a corporate shoot and was taken by how the man’s red hair and blue eyes popped on a pure white background. He wanted to try to re-create that.
So he photographed about a dozen more redheads. Word soon spread about those photos, and he got more people who wanted to take part. When he and Lorenz started posting the images on social media, the project really took off.
“We would have people email us out of the blue,” Barraclough said. “We get people that see the pictures and say: ‘Hey, we would love to be part of this. We’re in Chicago, when are you going to come to Chicago? When are you coming to Seattle? When are you coming to Phoenix?’ “
Barraclough and Lorenz have started doing casting calls when he happens to be in new cities for work. The only requirement is that the subject has to be a natural-born redhead, whether they dye it now or not. People fill out applications to take part, and then the collaboration begins.
Each shoot must start, however, with a simple shot of the person wearing white in front of plain white background.
It’s not an easy sell.
“There are times where it’s dead silence on the other side of the phone and you can almost hear a pin drop,” Barraclough said. “And then they say: ‘Ugh, I look awful in white. I’m a redhead, we have pale skin. I never wear white.’ And I say just wear white, you’ll love it, trust me.”
That first picture acts as a blank slate that they work to fill in later with each person’s personality. Barraclough says he likes it when viewers are surprised by what they see next.
As for the subjects, they participate for all sorts of reasons.
Maybe they were teased as a kid and want to show the world how proud they are of their red hair. Maybe cancer once took away their locks and now they want to show them off again. Some just like the playfulness of the whole thing. And how often do you get a chance to take part in a free professional photo shoot?
“I get the sense that people like to celebrate both their hair and their personalities,” Lorenz said. “To show people that, you know, I’m actually something beyond my red hair. I am a statistic, but I’m also an interesting person aside from the hair.”
The next shoot is planned for Savannah, Georgia, in early January.
“We’ve gotten emails from Tampa, from Alabama,” Barraclough said. “This lady in Tampa had triplets and said: ‘I want to I want to be part of this project. I know you’re not coming to Tampa but we’ll drive five and a half hours to come see you.’ ”
Barraclough remembers how one family in Texas drove 10-11 hours just to take part in a photo shoot and then head back home.
“That’s what keeps us going,” he said. “When we first started it we said, ‘Hey, let’s just go for a year and see how many redheads we get.’ And we keep going because people are so enthused about it. It just amazes me.”