Ellie Brown

Under the Hairdryer, 2005
archival Epson print
13 x 19 in.

The 5th and Olney section of North Philadelphia is a section known as primarily African American and lower income. The stores selling inexpensive goods and trash on the street reflect this notion but there is another vibrant life underlying the exterior. The neighborhood is one that is vibrant with community and activity. As I’ve been exploring this neighborhood that is adjacent to my own, I feel like an outsider. It is with my camera and the ensuing conversations that I am trying to develop a connection with this neighborhood and it’s residents.

I have been photographing pre and young adolelescent girls since 1996 in their quest for identity. One of the issues I photograph is the grooming ritual that girls learn and take on as part of their daily lives. In my current 5th Street project I am most strongly drawn to the plethora of nail and African hair braiding salons along the street. Manicures, airbrushed nails, pedicures, hair relaxing, hair setting, hair braiding, waxing and wigs are a weekly ritual of the women in this area and women everywhere. I am drawn to the time and money these women spend to create an exterior that has been culturally gifted or expected of them. With my camera I am trying to show these women going through these weekly rituals with integrity, as they are often hesitant to be photographed before the finished product of their salon visit is complete. The mix of cultural beauty expectations, the process of the grooming rituals and the final product are the three main concepts I am looking at with the salon photos from this larger series.

© Ellie Brown