A woman in a Côte d’Ivoire beauty salon sports a sleek, angled bob and heavily made-up eyes like a glamorous Motown singer. We see her hairstyle from the side and the back; two negatives have been spliced together by hand to form one complete, albeit charmingly juxtaposed, image. The pattern repeats in the series, Hair, and adds up to a visually arresting and intriguing set of imagery. It is complemented by the seemingly disparate series, Leopard, featuring characters wearing all manner of leopard-print garments; from underwear to overcoats, hats to headdresses and even an all-over body tattoo.
Hair by Émilie Régnier.
Both sets of photos are saturated: with colour, cultural resonance and the depth of an old Pentax camera. They are the works of Émilie Régnier, a former conflict photojournalist who was prompted to rethink her career in 2013 following a frightening experience in Northern Mali. Régnier was born in Montreal and also studied there, but spent most of her childhood in Central Africa. Turning away from war zones, she began to explore West Africa and used photography as a way to make sense of how borders shape our identities.
In 2014, Régnier began photographing women in beauty salons around Côte d’Ivoire—a longtime fashion capital of West Africa—and borrowed her splicing technique from their own tradition of stitching pictures together in order to depict a 360-degree view of their styles. Here she found many women looking to American pop stars for beauty inspiration, chiefly Beyoncé and Rihanna, and initiated a conversation about identity and the relationship between Africa and the West. Leopard evolved from this project: a rumination on leopard as a symbol of power—traditionally worn by tribal chiefs and kings in Africa, and famously as a hat by Democratic Republic of the Congo dictator Mobutu Sese Seko—and co-opted as a pattern and a fashion symbol by the West.
While most of Régnier’s photos were shot across Africa, the now Paris-based photographer, also captured images in the United States and Europe. The series is a cultural conversation in itself that speaks of a universality: highlighting the feedback loop between artists, political figures and everyday people across continents.
Hairand Leopard are shown together in an exhibition, From Mobutu to Beyoncé, at the Bronx Documentary Center until 4 June. bronxdoc.org/exhibitions