The Backstory: Why would I ever start photographing this?
This actually started with "A Sad Story About Hair". In case you weren't enticed by that link, here's the short version of that story. In the mid-2000's my friend, Kevin, dropped out of school and stopped taking care of his appearance. In June of 2007, through a combination of timing and luck, he claims he was going after a daytime work position that required a change and we claim we intervened on his behalf, I convinced Kevin to get his (desperately needed) shave and a haircut at our friend Ashley's home. Not only did she have a cute little sister, she had a cute little sister that cut hair!
Kevin allowed me to photograph his transformation. The next week I got my last haircut in over 3 years and Kevin met his fiancé. In June of 2010 Kevin and I scheduled to reverse our positions with me getting a haircut and him photographing. Serendipitously, I came across an announcement for the 1st Annual Beard and Mustache Championships in Bend, OR and it was the weekend before I was scheduled to get my shave and haircut. My photographing this felt like it was meant to be. I made the appropriate contacts and booked a room in the group hotel.
Part 1: The 2010 Championships - Bend, OR
I was pretty nervous about showing up to a club full of burly dudes with beards. Especially with the rather sad looking neck-curtain I was wearing. But I had a strategy! I was going to show up the night before and make sure to attend the big pre-party gathering. Then I would somehow start talking with one of the larger groups and go micro-brewery hopping with them. I reasoned that if I drank until I was blind with these guys they'd remember me the next day and bless me with extra personality inspired photography. Half right.
As you can see, I may as well have been actually blind by the end of the night. The game was, "hey, it's time to go, finish these pitchers for us photographer!". I will always oblige free beer and so I would, then chase down my bearded flock to the next place. I lost count after the 12th pint, but had I the capacity, I would have been really dreading the next day. The bearders got to wake up to a hardy breakfast and more drinking. I got to wake up to a light breakfast of dry heaving hangover and a 1 or 2 mile parade to cover.
If you've never covered a parade by yourself, let me try to explain it. Did you ever do an "Indian Run" or "Swedish Mile" growing up on a sports team or in gym class? If not, the idea is that everyone runs single file and take turns leading by having the person at the back of the line race to the front, overtake the group and lead until the next guy takes over. Photographing a parade is a lot like that with 20 pounds of awkward photography stuff on your back and in your hands.
The parade of flags was magnificent. These beards brought smiles and joy to those around them. Everywhere along the route the competitors were greeted with cheers. To have a beard in Bend, that day, was to be an anonymous, but recognizable celebrity. After 45 minutes to an hour, we arrived at the Les Schwab Amphitheater in the Old Mill District of Bend, OR. This would end up being my last break for the day.
<gallery of parade and crowds cheering>
After buying 2 bottles of water and snapping a few shots around the park while scouting locations to shoot the main event I settled on camping at the end of the stage's runway. This was fantastic for my photography and the reason I didn't give myself a break for the rest of the day. It was the most competitive spot photographers wanted to get at for the day. Multiple times other photographers tried to literally push me out of the way. They tried to move me out in a variety of ways. I made myself full of elbows and a solid base. No one was taking my spot. No one.
Turns out that it was all worth it. My hangover, which never abated, was recognized as well earned by the gentle beardmen. They blessed me with eye-contact, super poses, and an intensity that the other photographers didn't seem to be getting (and could account for them trying to muscle in on my spot).
Part 2: The 2011 Championships - Lancaster, PA
Part 1: The Whiskerinas
Just before the whole hipster lady-mustache fad became a thing the real champions of female facial hair brought out their A-Game at the first Whiskerinas Lady Faux-Beard Championships, a pre-party warm-up to the main event the next day and a wonderful fundraiser for breast cancer.
Fake mustaches can be cute, but they got nothin' on The Whiskerinas. These ladies brought a level of craft and creativity to Beard Team USA that I hadn't seen in photographs from past events or at the previous competitions I had been able to cover. Prior to this show, the Freestyle category seemed mostly filled with gravity defying beard designs meant to amaze by sheer audacity. Now, it seems that we get to see a lot more props and themed Freestyle designs from the men, who had to step their creative game up a notch.
Part 2: The 2011 Beard Parade