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GARY HALLIDAY Behind the lens

Gary Halliday has worked alongside some of the biggest names in hairdressing and fashion. From humble beginnings his hairdressing career went into orbit but Gary used his success as an opportunity to evolve artistically. His career shows yet again that choosing hair as a career can lead to many great, and sometimes unexpected, opportunities.

Why did you want to become a hairdresser?

I was about 16 and I’d just seen the movie ‘Shampoo’ starring Warren Beatty. I thought, “I fancy that, riding around LA on a motorbike with a hairdryer stuffed in my jeans”. Riding around Dudley on a scooter just wasn’t the same!

How did you get into the business?

I grew up on a council estate in the Black Country, as the youngest of seven from a single parent family. I got a Saturday job at a local salon called David’s Of Stourbridge. I was 15 and saving up for a scooter.

What else could you have been and why?

I wanted to be an actor at a young age and would tap dance behind the settee while my Mum watched films. I thought about being a builder for a while, well 10 minutes actually. Anything creative I guess. I had a really poor art teacher at school. I remember I took some cardboard into the art lesson cut into the size of Vinyl LP covers. I told him that I was going to design album covers on the cardboard. He asked, “What’s the point?” I threw them in the bin!

What did you love about the job when you first started?

David (Davids’s Of Stourbridge) took me under his wing. He would take me to seminars, shows and competitions around Birmingham. I was amazed by all these incredibly stylish people, all hanging out in clubs doing hair and dressing up. It seemed so glamorous. Tell us about your early career.

Where did you work and who influenced you?

I’d Known Umberto Giannini from about the age of 15. He used to say to me that he wanted to put Kidderminster on the hairdressing map. I used to ask him, “why do you want to do that?“ I worked for Umberto Giannini when he went stratospheric – it was like being in a band. Everyone wanted us for seminars etc. We had a really great team. Umberto, Lisa Shepherd, Nick Ford, Mathew Alexander, Mark Palmer. Umberto and I would argue about everything, but he always supported me in what I wanted to do. He was like that with all the staff, supportive and caring, a great loss and a really good bloke. I have a lot of respect for him, which I regret never taking the time to show him when he was alive.

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How did you get into session styling?

I had a client called Michael Brinton. Michael was friends with the late Anna Harvey from British Vogue and Princess Diana’s stylist. Michael introduced me to Sam McKnight. Sam had just had an operation or had damaged his cruciate ligament and needed someone to carry his bags. I worked with Sam for five years as his first Assistant. I did everything for him, collected his laundry, his car from the pound, everything. I remember Sam getting mugged in New York and he sent me out looking in the trash cans for his teeth which had been pistol whipped out. I didn’t find them!

Tell us about working alongside Sam McKnight?

Working with Sam was amazing. It was at the height of the supermodel era and so everything was so Rock ‘N’ Roll, with massive budgets, brilliant parties and crazy people just rocking up. We would do shows in Paris, Milan, New York and London with only four assistants.

Gary Halliday with Claudia Schiffer
Gary Halliday with Claudia Schiffer

Now they have 30 plus assistants for every show. I’d been working with Sam for about a week and asked if I could step in on a job for him as he was double booked. The job was a Revlon campaign with Claudia Schiffer. I hear so many young stylists saying that they do session work, but I don’t think you can really call yourself a session stylist until you’ve done all the seasons – NY, Milan, Paris, London and your only income comes from shoots – none of this four shoots a year business – that’s just pretending.

What were the highlights of your session career around the globe?

The travel was amazing – fly to Miami shoot for 10 days fly direct to South Africa – 10 Day commercial, back to London for two days then off to do the shows before heading out to Bali for a shoot for Marie Claire. It was so much fun and I worked with people who became good mates – photographers etc.

What did working with Sam and top magazines/ models etc. teach you about hairdressing?

Sam was always really supportive of me and would be thrilled when I got a great job. I learnt really quickly that being a session stylist is all about working as a team to create something, to enhance an idea. It’s not about the hair – Oh look how wonderful I am at updo’s – it’s not about that. Sometimes I would leave the models’ hair untouched, but that’s a confidence thing. I can always tell hairdressers who do real session work as opposed to salon hairdressers who just do a bit. It’s the way they touch hair.

How did your experiences influence your work?

I work from instinct. That shows both in the hair that I do and how I approach photography.

Where did your passion for photography come from?

I didn’t realise at the time, but it came from working with all these amazing photographers: Albert Watson, David Bailey, Jurgen Teller etc. I was picking up loads of tips and info. Initially I got into making short films to show the camera operator what I wanted and then I just took pictures and showed them as a visual aid. I suddenly realised that I was using techniques that I’d seen photographers using. I’ve had no training at all regarding photography, but I guess I just have a visual eye and a gut instinct!

Why change careers from hair to photography?

I think I grew out of hairdressing! I love fashion, hair, clothes etc. But I like a good bit of camera kit more.

Do you think having worked as a hairdresser gives you an edge when it comes to taking shots of hair?

I think it gives me an understanding of what works with hair – and I definitely know what I like. I come from a fashion background when it comes to photography as opposed to beauty photography, which is the basis for most hair images. So I guess my work is a little less formulaic and I shoot on location most of the time which of course gives a different feel. It draws the attention away from the hair and becomes about the overall image. I really love what Kevin Murphy does with his hair campaigns – really cool and sexy – but hair slightly undone. Again, that’s a confidence thing.

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How is your hair photography different - what sets it apart from how others work?

I’m into what I call fashion portraiture – I love the work that Annie Leibovitz does in Vanity Fair and that’s how I want to shoot hair stories, big epic stories with models oozing character. I want the viewer to look at the pictures and wonder about the model’s story, where did they come from, what has happened to her/him and then think, “Wow she’s got great hair!”

Do you think it’s time hair photography evolved?

Oh god yeah..! It’s stuck – sorry but it is. I love what the hairdresser Gary Gill is doing right now. It’s not commercial but it’s good, really great. Everyone speaks about it in hushed tones but never says it in public.

What are you aiming to achieve with your photography?

Great sexy images. There’s a reason magazines like Vogue etc shoot the covers like they do. They engage people and I think that’s what’s missing from hair images.

Who have been your greatest hair influencers?

Sam McKnight, Julian Dy’s, Umberto Giannini – Ok Vidal Sassoon – mic drop moment: he improved hair cutting but put British Hairdressing 30 years behind the rest of the world. Boom.

And who have been your greatest photographic influencers? Whose work do you admire and why?

Peter Lindbergh – everything he does is just beautiful. Anthony Edwin – he made women just look so beautiful – Mario Testino, had his career, I think Anthony is better. Elaine Constantine – a super talented female photographer who really challenged the establishment – Finlay McKay – Fin is just such a great guy, super funny and has made me laugh until it hurts. and Martin Parr. Martin Parr’s work just reminds me of my family and growing up in Britain during the 70s.

Where do you see your career going now?

I’m just waiting for the renaissance! Gary has put together a package for salons wanting to produce artistic collections. His aim has been to offer affordable rates so that collections can become a realistic option for many more salons.

For more information about the packages, contact Gary Halliday at [email protected] or visit his website https://garyhalliday.co.uk/.

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