Their hair might have ended up in the rubbish, but its removal took a photographer a cut above thousands for a shot at a top award from the reknowned London art gallery.

By Jamila Soso-Vincent

KU students have their hair cutting antics on display at the National Portrait Gallery


By Jamila Soso-Vincent


A photograph depicting the hair cutting antics of Kingston University students at their “bin bag salon” is currently on display at the National Potrait Gallery.


Fine art photographer David Stewart, impressed with how far the image of the students had taken him, said:  “There may be more sittings for [other] Kingston teenagers yet.”


Proud of his achievement, despite not scooping any of the top prizes, Mr Stewart said: “Lots of people get to see your work in the portrait gallery.”


 The portrait, entitled Shepherdess, shows Luisa Crosbie, an illustration and animation student, cutting the hair of Sam Smith, who studies graphic design.


Waiting their turns are Emile Mniszko and Francis North, also graphic design students, Alexander Hopkins, a fine art student, Michael Sacco, who completed foundation art at KU (now a visual communication student at The Glasgow School of Art), and illustration and animation student Jacob Read.


Mr North, who has been to see the exhibition, said that it was “great” seeing himself in the portrait gallery and that his friends and family were “really excited” when he told them about it.


He said: “It almost looks like we’re in a cult… like we’re getting branded.”


“It’s a bit weird but I’m not madly fazed about it,” he added. “It’s good to get involved in those kinds of things.”


One of London’s most sought-after photographers, Mr Stewart said that it was his daughter Alice Stewart, also a KU student, who told him about the monthly hair-cutting ritual that took place at Middle Mill halls of residence.


After attending one of the ‘rituals’ in January 2011, he said he ended up with the portrait, which had turned out much different from what he had originally intended.


“When we saw the picture, we thought it looked like…the woman trimming the sheep,” He said. “She was rounding them up.”


Mr Stewart was one of 60 entrants chosen, out of 2,506 applicants, to compete for the £12,000 first-place prize in the gallery’s annual Taylor Wessing Photographic Portrait Prize.


Noted for his surreal and often humorous portraits, the Lancaster-born photographer explained that Shepherdess is part of a project that he is currently working on called Teenage Preoccupation – which takes a look at the activities that teenagers indulge in.


He also had some words of advice for students who are pursuing a similar career path.


“It’s important to have contact with the real world; try and get placements,” said Mr Stewart, who works also works in advertising.


“While you’re at college, use the best opportunities that you can to find out more before you leave.”


In 2007, Mr Stewart was nominated for his photograph Alice and Fish in the portrait awards; in 2001, his collection Fogeys won a silver award at the Art Directors Club of New York; and in 1995, a short film he directed to accompany his first photographic collection Cabbage was nominated for a BAFTA.

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