In 1954, Benjamin and Mary Rose Dean opened a hair salon in the heart of Northeast Portland. Now, 53 years later, Dean's Beauty Salon & Barber Shop is not only still in business and owned by the family, but it has received a tribute from the late couple's granddaughter, Kelly Johnson.
Johnson, a professional photographer, has been either hanging out or working for her grandparents' business since she was a child. She knows how important a hairstyle is to the people who come to Dean's. With that in mind, Johnson's new book, "Hair Dance!" (Henry Holt and Co., $16.95) is a celebration of the diverse, individual, artistic and everyday styles of hair for African American girls.
Long, straight, curly, braided, afro-puffed — Johnson photographed 84 girls for the book, none of them models, and although far less made the final cut, she says they represent the everyday hairstyles that make life more interesting.
"They all bring great personal presence," she said. "The girls are really graceful in the way they present themselves."
Johnson said the book is geared toward girls of any race and any color, intended to bring self-esteem and confidence in their young lives. The words of poet and author Dinah Johnson (no relation) compliment the range of photos throughout the book.
Over the course of a year, Johnson tracked down her subjects. Many were found at Dean's, while others were daughters of friends and relatives. During the sessions, she tried to make them act as natural as possible.
"I don't like giving kids a whole lot of direction," she said. "If you do, you take them right out of their zone."
When looking for a good subject, Johnson said she tried to find girls who were naturally charismatic and had lots of personality. Their hair style came second.
"The girl makes the hair, the hair doesn't make the girl," she said.
In crafting the book, Johnson hopes
In a professional world where digital is now the standard, Johnson decided to use film for the project. Learning a lot as she went along, the traditional black and white photographer had to learn the ins and outs of shooting and developing color film.
Johnson said she always considered herself a photographer. When she was 9, she said her father handed her a 35 mm camera he brought back from the Korean War. Lacking instructions, she had to teach herself how to use it.
"He told me, 'Be smarter than the camera, kid,'" she recalled her father saying. And she's had the photography bug ever since.
Johnson's worked as a photojournalist for the Oregonian, has done greeting cards, and worked for Getty Images. Now, when she's not working on a book, she works as a staff photographer for a major corporation and has her own studio.
Smiling, Johnson said she hopes the book leaves a legacy she can be proud of, just as her grandparents left a legacy of their own.
"Styles have changed, people have changed, but it still makes people feel special," she said, reflecting on the special role the barber and stylist play in people's lives.
The book is planned for release in September.