Author Michael July photographed afro trends and culture in his book AFROS.
Photographer Michael July describes his admiration for natural hair as a lesson in culture. Growing up in Brooklyn’s Clinton Hill, July remembers wearing his hair in dreadlocks while his parents, both artists, always styled theirs in afros. But the afro community of the 80s and 90s was much smaller than it is now and his afro-donning parents weren’t only making a statement with their hairstyles, they were inviting a subculture in along with it.
“Both my parents had Afros, and they were artists, and they exposed me to a lot of museums and Brooklyn culture when I was growing up,” July told New York Magazine earlier this month. “I basically picked up a camcorder and started documenting all of the culture around me — parties, concerts, shows.”
Creating a book out of the culture that surrounded him was always a dream, but honing in on a subject matter was more difficult for July. That is, until July 2006 when he snapped a shot of a Brooklyn couple.
“They were only 20 years old, and both of them had these big round Afros.”
Later that summer, July decided to create a photography book full of photos of people with afros. Yet, even in 2006, the natural hair movement was slow going. Despite traveling across the country in search of afros of all shapes, sizes and colors, July remarks that finding subjects for the project was difficult, up until it suddenly just wasn’t.
“For the first four years, it was difficult to find people who wore their hair naturally, but then I noticed a Renaissance period, particularly in Brooklyn,” he says. “We’re seeing a much broader representation of natural hair that they weren’t seeing about five or six years ago. Particularly in the last three years, I’ve met a lot of people — lawyers, doctors, other professionals — who wear their hair naturally without worrying about it being socially acceptable.”
As his collection of photos began to build, July sought out a way to publish a long, full-color, coffee-table book with high quality images – all without breaking the bank. So in the summer of 2012, July started a Kickstarter campaign for the book and began to push out the information to the natural hair community.
The online campaign simply stated: By creating this book my hope is to show how beautiful and diverse natural hair is and that it should be embraced and celebrated by everyone worldwide whether they choose to wear theirs natural or not.
With publications such as The Huffington Post and Clutch Magazine helping to spread the word, his Kickstarter campaign received $20,000 in funding, allowing him to produce a 450-page, full-color, high-quality art book.
The book combines not only photos of people wearing afros, but also what July calls their “hairstory.”
“Sometimes I’d just give people my card and ask them to get in touch, and they’d write me these really profound things,” he says. “It’s amazing how much someone will tell you when you just ask about their hair.”
The resurgence back to natural hair, many believe, was originally part of a larger theme, of people becoming more and more aware of the bad chemicals they put in and on their bodies.
“The green movement has made people more socially and personally conscious of what we put into our bodies. People are becoming more aware of the damaging chemicals in hair treatments, and they want to approach their hair in a sustainable way.”
Keeping true to that sustainable and natural approach, July avoided retouching or using Photoshop on any of his photos. The goal? To keep the photos as natural as possible.
Today, the natural hair community is thriving and the launch of his book, “Afros – A Celebration of Natural Hair,” this summer is aimed not only at showcasing the beauty of natural hair, but also at continuing to build the community and support for which the natural hair world in renowned.
“I didn’t discriminate because of color or ethnicity, obviously,” he says. “Asian people and Hispanic people and white people have Afros too.”
July’s book is already receiving critical acclaim with many saying that his book is an outlet for those who already are or who may be wanting to go natural.
“Going natural is in some ways like coming out of the closet as the person you really are,” celebrity hairstylist Edris Nicholls told NY Daily News. ““The more they do it, the more people will follow.”
Get more information about July’s book and where you can buy it here.