Gin­gerly does it

There’s sexy flame-haired ac­tresses like Ju­lianne moore, Karen el­son, Lily cole, Ni­cole Kid­man — but where are their male coun­ter­parts?

The Star Malaysia - Star2 - - LIVING - By Michael hann

Thomas Knights wants you to think about ac­tion he­roes. about James Bond, or the char­ac­ters arnie gets to play. he wants you to think about ro­man­tic leads in hol­ly­wood movies, about the guy who gets the girl, about the film star ev­ery man wants to be and ev­ery woman wants to be with. and then he wants you to ask your­self this: how come those men are never gin­ger?

That’s why he’s spent the past cou­ple of years pho­tograph­ing red-headed men – not tubby, acne-rid­den men with greasy hair, but vivid and beau­ti­ful red-headed men, the kind who – were it not for their hair colour – would make any mem­ber of the mousey ma­jor­ity jeal­ous.

“It’s in the pub­lic con­scious­ness that gin­ger men aren’t sexy and aren’t strong,” he tells me. “They are com­pletely emas­cu­lated and de­sex­u­alised in pop­u­lar cul­ture.”

and so with his ex­hi­bi­tion Red Hot, fea­tur­ing photographs of 50 men, he wants to do what many peo­ple would find ei­ther ridicu­lous or ris­i­ble: he wants to make gin­ger men de­sir­able.

If you think “gin­gerism” is re­ally, well, a bit of a laugh, you’re al­most cer­tainly not gin­ger, as Knights is and as I am. You weren’t one of the red-headed kids in­jured by bul­lies at Wing­field academy in Rother­ham, north Eng­land, in oc­to­ber, when a group of stu­dents de­cided to cel­e­brate “Kick a Gin­ger Day”. You’ve never been vi­o­lently attacked in drunken in­ci­dents sim­ply be­cause some­one who’d over­done the beer didn’t like the colour of your hair. at the most pro­saic level, you’ve never had your hair colour used rou­tinely as an all-pur­pose put­down, or heard ran­dom strangers shout “Gin­ger!” (al­ways with hard Gs; ap­par­ently it’s re­ally funny when you pro­nounce it like that) as you walk down the street, mind­ing your own busi­ness. Though I guess hav­ing red hair in pub­lic is pretty provoca­tive.

“The main thing for me is the huge po­lar­i­sa­tion be­tween the way our so­ci­ety per­ceives gin­ger men and gin­ger women,” says Knights.

“You can name suc­cess­ful red­headed women in hol­ly­wood. But with men, once you’ve said Damian Lewis, you’re stumped. There’s got to be a rea­son for that, be­cause ge­net­i­cally it should be equal. But it hasn’t been al­lowed to hap­pen. so I think the whole gin­gerism thing is a stealth form of ac­cept­able racism that goes on in board­rooms, in au­thors’ minds. Look at harry Pot­ter – the red­heads are the poor, weak fam­ily, the buf­foons. If harry Pot­ter had been gin­ger, that would have been a dif­fer­ent story.”

The idea for Red Hot came from the ris- ing pro­file of Lewis, and from the con­tin­u­ing es­capades of Prince harry, whom Knights views as the epit­ome of the sexy gin­ger man – high-pro­file and a bit wild. he de­cided red­headed men were hav­ing their “mo­ment”. so he called up the lead­ing model agen­cies, ask­ing for sub­jects to pho­to­graph.

“None of them had any gin­ger mod­els,” he says. “They had loads of red­headed women, but no male mod­els – there wasn’t a de­mand from the fash­ion in­dus­try.”

In the ab­sence of mod­els, he had to ap­peal for sub­jects and go out in search of oth­ers. Greg Ruther­ford, the olympic gold medal­win­ning long-jumper, was among them, and told Knights he’s still known within sport as “the gin­ger ath­lete” not the “olympic cham­pion ath­lete”.

“his girl­friend told me that when she started dat­ing him, her friends got to­gether and told her, ‘We didn’t know you were into gin­gers’,” says Knights.

“and her friends were say­ing, ‘aren’t you afraid you’re go­ing to have a gin­ger baby?’ my best mate is dat­ing an Ir­ish guy with a gin­ger beard. I said, ‘Gen­uinely, how would you feel if you had a gin­ger baby?’ and she said, ‘I’m not go­ing to lie to you, I would be dis­ap­pointed. of course I’m go­ing to love it, but I don’t want a gin­ger baby’. This is at the heart of it – that women are ashamed to have a gin­ger baby.”

he’s heard sto­ries from his sub­jects of the bul­ly­ing they have suf­fered, of their at­tempts to ren­der them­selves un-gin­ger (as Knights him­self did – he dyed his hair for 10 years be­fore re­sign­ing him­self to his nat­u­ral colour­ing).

“That re­ally shouldn’t have to hap­pen in to­day’s world. That’s why I feel boys need their strong male role mod­els. Back at school, if some­one said to me, ‘You fuck­ing gin­ger’, I’d say, ‘Yeah, I am, and I re­ally hate it’. I agreed with them. I had no pride.”

Not now – even though, irony of ironies, his hair has now dark­ened, and – as some­one whose hair is bright enough to be used as a bea­con on dark nights – I’d be hard pushed to de­scribe him as a true gin­ger. But gin­ger in­ter­sec­tion­al­ity must be up­held, and af­ter 50 min­utes of Knights’s de­ter­mined pros­e­lytis­ing on be­half of our kind, I’m ready to head out into the streets of cen­tral Lon­don and yell: “say it loud! I’m gin­ger and I’m proud.”

I don’t, though. some­one would only shout back: “F**** off, gin­ger.” – Guardian News & me­dia

Red Hot by Thomas Knights is on at The Gallery in Red­church Street, Lon­don, un­til Dec 22. For more in­for­ma­tion, go to the­gallery­inred­church­street.com.

Be­yond type­cast: Greg ruther­ford, the Olympic gold medal-win­ning long-jumper, is still known within sports cir­cles as ‘the gin­ger ath­lete’ not the ‘Olympic cham­pion ath­lete’.

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