This Sunday, April 3, we will celebrate our industry’s Oscars --the North American Hairstyling Awards or NAHAs. This photo competition, co-founded by MODERN SALON, awards our industry’s artists and creatives. As a (grateful) judge of this competition, I have often seen Keith Bryce’s name credited as photographer on the collections that make it into the finals.
Bryce, who in addition to being a photographer is also a skilled fashion designer, hairstylist and creative director, picked up a camera because he wanted to shoot his own fashion collections. As a designer who had been selected to compete on the reality television show, Project Runway, Bryce loves the thrill of the competition, the buzz of being on-set and throws himself into every project with a full heart and complete commitment.
“I love collection building and NAHA lets us take it to that hyper-creative space,” he says. “And when I work with someone, I want to collaborate; I call them my teammates, not my clients. I’ve had people challenged by lack of inspiration and I’ll stay up to four or five in the morning because I want to make sure we have something impactful to shoot the next day. I am not just there to capture the shot while watching them struggle.”
Bryce works with award-winning artists, as well as students and first-time competitors. He says an aspect of his role (as creative director and photographer) is paying attention to what is happening in the world of hair, especially when working with the newer stylists. “Students come with big ideas but often it’s only what they have been exposed to in that exact moment and so I try to round out their perspective. I will push them towards what is hot, what is happening now, while also showing them what has been presented historically. Knowing what is next is sort of what NAHA is about.”
He has also submitted his own hair design work to the competition—and was named a finalist—having come to hairdressing after he realized that his approach to hair mirrored his approach to fashion design.
“At my first NAHA shoot, where I was creating a wardrobe, the hair stylist was feeling stressed and needed some direction. I told him I would sketch out some work and that I would include his hair designs in my fashion sketches.
“To me, hair is like a bunch of threads and you just need to figure out what you want them to do. I didn’t realize it at the time, but I was treating hair as another form of fabric. I look at hair very sculpturally, from a fashion/art direction kind of space.”
Bryce was nominated as a NAHA finalist for his own collection in 2020.
Today, Bryce shoots and creatively directs five or six collections a year. Because he can come from so many different directions—as a hairstylist, designer, and photographer—he has a unique point of view and can sense when a collection is hitting its stride and has established a rhythm.
But before he jumps into working with someone on a photo collection he asks questions. “You have to see where someone is at technically and also where they are with their aesthetics. What is cool to them, what do they respond to?”
The questions continue as the concept comes together, and they are about both the artist and their work. “You need to ask, what makes this collection different? What sets you apart? What makes it feel like you’re saying something special? Sometimes people say, I don’t want to do something so crazy, but it doesn’t have to be crazy to be competitive.
“Also, I tell them to ask themselves, where do I want to fit within the industry? If this collection is my shot at saying who I am—what is that? You want to define your brand. If you’re presenting an avant-garde collection, is that what you want to be known for if it’s actually your color work that you love and want to grow into?”
On Understanding the Assignment
Putting together a NAHA collection shoot can be a big to-do. Bryce says, yes, it can be expensive, but people can be resourceful, drafting friends as collaborators. He also hastens to add that paying for a professional model, who knows how to move, can be a smart investment. “You’re either going to pay with your time or with your pocketbook.There are all these components that create a successful shoot—the hair, the overall art direction, the photography, the models. You really have to know the assignment.”
On Mood Boards
So that everyone on the shoot can easily see what the artist is working to capture and convey, the creation of a mood board will serve as a map.
“It probably starts out more as an inspiration board but it turns into a mood board,” Bryce explains. “I tell artists to pull pictures—physical and digital—that are images they are drawn to and excited by and then see how that fits into the industry.
“Sometimes students say, this shot is so amazing, and I point out that it won last year,” he continues. “Looking at what has happened at NAHA is just one aspect but all their inspiration shouldn’t come from what has been done in the past; I’ll say pull color work that is out there, look at what is happening in fashion or the history of fashion that you’re responding to, as well.”
On Being Present
“People will tell me that I have good eyes and good suggestions but really, I have just been paying attention. And over the years, I’ve become much quicker at getting what we need. Ten years ago, it was so thought out and I would have 100 images of the same thing. Now, I’ll be quick to play and to say, lets take off the jacket, let’s have some wafting to the hair, let’s add a bit more texture to the hair.”
“I consider the process between me and the model to be a dance. If you don’t allow a model to move their energy really goes down. You want to stagger your model call times so they are not sitting around, doing nothing, for too long.
"I give them a little direction, but I also like to let the models move and to get to something that just feels like them. I find if I get too stiff, the images feel too contrived, and the process isn’t nearly as fun.”
On Switching Things Up
Bryce says it’s often when something goes awry—a planned hair design doesn’t actually work with the model’s face, for instance—that the magic happens. While these teams of creatives may have started with a concept, that original blueprint often gets redrafted as surprises present themselves. And then at the shoot?
“I will do switch-ups when I’m shooting, where I will push artists to deconstruct that finished look I just captured, “ Bryce shares. “Sometimes, seeing the hair that is out of place, knowing that it’s perfectly imperfect- and it’s in those unexpected moments that we really create art.”
He has both his students and professionals prepare a fourth or fifth look, keeping in mind the connection to the collection, which can be their risky move. “Let that be your, ‘I was just going for something different’ and that image can sometimes be the one where you say, yes, that’s the one.”
Attend the NAHA 2020 Award Ceremony on Sunday, April 3, at the Terrace Theatre in Long Beach, CA.
For reprint and licensing requests for this article, Click here.