CNN Photos

Comb-overs, curls and crew cuts

Hair and photos have never been funnier.

This is the story of how two Richmond, Virginia, photographers teamed up to create more than 50 humorous characters — all centered on hair.

To really “get” this unique project, you have to know two things. One: All the photos feature the same person: photographer/artist Gordon Stettinius. And two: In each photo, Stettinius rocks a painstaking hairstyle that often was months in the making.

“I wanted to do something kind of off the beam,” Stettinius said. “I wanted to be as peculiar as I could.”

Mission accomplished.

Make no mistake: No wigs nor extensions were used in the production of this project. We’re talking about authentic, living follicles growing from Stettinius’ scalp and face — each style meticulously grown and coiffed.

Check out the portrait of Stettinius sporting a classic comb-over — just like grandpa used to.

Other photos feature him with a mullet, a crew cut, cornrows, a beehive, bangs, a perm and a pompadour.

“People have said, ‘Oh my gosh, I’ve dated every one of those guys!’ ” laughed portrait photographer Terry Brown, who created the images.

The whole thing started eight years ago as a lark. One day Stettinius felt the urge to go to a hairstylist and then have his photo taken.

“I got a perm, went to Mangini Studio and Terry was the primary studio photographer there, and that was how we met,” he said. That first photo session led to another, and another. Eventually they realized they were creating a concept for a larger project.

So how does the process work? First, Stettinius picks a hairstyle. “Then I try to go backwards and try to figure out what character wears that style,” he said.

Sometimes the hairstyle requires additional development. For the comb-over, Stettinius shaved part of his head. “Then, I’d have to wear that around for at least a week — just to kind of cure it in the sun — so it didn’t look like it was freshly shaved,” he said.

For a portrait featuring a beard, Stettinius cultivated his face for five months.

In another picture, Stettinius is rocking actual dreadlocks. “It took me three months to work up those,” he said.

Stettinius and Brown have put the images in a book, “Mangini Studio,” to take a well-meaning poke at photography that takes itself too seriously. But the book also aims to provoke a discussion about the role of self-identity in society.

“We tried to give each photo an identity, like, ‘Who would have this haircut?’ ” Brown said. “I approached it from the history of the headshot, and to make an honest picture for what this person would need a picture for — whether he just got a job as a construction foreman, or whether he just wrote a self-help book.”

Stettinius said “it ties into … the whole notion of how people perceive you and how you present yourself. It uses the studio portrait as a device, and then it captures a little bit of performance art.”

In the end, however, the project is all “meant pure and simply to be humorous,” Stettinius said.

Brown gets a kick out of watching people’s initial reaction to the photos.

“You see them sort of connect the dots,” she said. “They’ll quietly chuckle to themselves when they see what’s going on. That’s really nice.”

- Thom Patterson, CNN