Just 1-2% of the world’s population have natural red hair, which makes it a very unique trait that can become a fascinating selling feature that stands out in a crowd—or, in some cases, cause bullying for being different. If an uncommon hair color is seen as individuality rather than an oddity, we can live in a more understanding world because after all, the same DNA flows in all of us beyond borders, and here’s a testimony to that.
Over the past seven years, 39-year-old Scottish photographer Kieran Dodds has been traveling the world and capturing different people with one connecting trait—ginger hair. But the project is not just about hair. As Kieran told Bored Panda, it’s about “connecting us across political and cultural boundaries, using a rare golden thread.”
“Look, stare and marvel, that’s the whole point. Find connections across the world. I want people to compare the portraits and delight in our variety even without an apparently homogenous group. We are made of the same stuff but we are uniquely tuned,” he says.
Kieran Dodds told us how a 7-year-long journey of meeting gingers across the globe started.
“In 2014, Scotland voted on independence and I was considering the cliches of identity. I knew I was one of them, being pale and ginger, but very early on in the research process, I found that it is a global trait. Even Scotland, as the global capital, has 13% of people at most showing the hair color. There were two hot spots, it claimed, one in Scotland and Ireland that is confirmed by science—the Celtic Fringe. The other hot spot was in Russia that was confirmed by an anecdote.”
Kieran has made interesting discoveries during his photography project, although he mainly traveled across places that are considered hot spots of the ginger population like Scotland and the Russian city of Perm, and also Jamaica, with complex genetic inheritance.
“Our genes have traveled far across history even if we personally have not,” he says. “Due to constraints on money (this was all self-funded), I focused my attention on the two hot spots, but also Jamaica. I made work over seven years in different places in the UK. In London, I met gingers from across the world, but in Scotland, I saw that you don’t need to travel far. One lad had an Indian great-grandfather and another had an Eastern European mother and Middle Eastern dad. He is Scottish, but his story expands our expectations of that narrow political term.”
“I traveled to the city of Perm (an apt name!) and met people who embodied the geographic location with European names and ancestry, but also Asia.
Sveta Ni, in particular, stood out as she said her father’s family line was originally from China. The oldest ginger gene mutation is traced to Central Asia with gingers in Western China, Afghanistan, and North Pakistan. I would love to go there and continue the project, but the transect I have made across 11 time zones is an attempt to capture this range. To the West outlier is Treasure Beach, on the southern coast of Jamaica. The locals shared a story of shipwrecked Scots swimming ashore and setting up home, but the local historian Dr. Bones said reality is, alas, less romantic than that. He described successive waves of invaders (Spanish conquistadors, French, English, and Scottish groups) who have left their legacy. Black River, a larger settlement nearby, had a slave market to supply labor for the sugar estates. They were joined in the 18th century by Scottish political rebels who were sent to Jamaica as indentured laborers. Over the centuries, the ebbs and flows of human life can be seen in the beautiful people here. The fishing villages here are a quiet and safe bolthole for discerning tourists. It wasn’t a hardship for me to visit.”
Kieran has put his international finds that transect eleven time zones, from the Americas through Europe, on to the Middle East and Asia, in a photography book called Gingers, which was sold out before it was released on November 20.
The photographer dedicated this book to his twin daughters, who have the last portrait in the book: “I want something for them to grow up and see they are part of something bigger, not merely an identity group but a group within the bigger family of humanity.”
Despite the negative connotations around the word “ginger,” the photographer feels like it’s quite an accurate description and chose it for the title.
“Ginger is what others call red hair, a spectrum incorporating orange and yellow and brown, an iridescent gold. The Russians call it ‘rege’ or rusty, which is better. It’s not red, is it? Blood is red, fire engines are red, stop signs are red.”
“The series is made to help us see the individual people in this series, that we are made of the same stuff and in the case of hair, it shows. Dividing people into smaller groups based on characteristics seems counterproductive if we continue to see them as an oddity rather than as a unique part of a global human family.”
A preorder for the paperback book released on December 14th is coming very soon. So stay tuned here if you want to surprise your ginger friend or discover a variety of red-haired people around the world.