From an early age, Indian born, Los Angeles-based fine art photographer Rohina Hoffman
understood that hair had power. At the age of seven, Hoffman's two ponytails were unceremoniously cut off leaving her with a boy's haircut for a good part of her childhood. The trauma of losing control of her identity at such a young age has stayed with Hoffman her entire life and provided the early inspiration for her photography series Hair Stories.
A solo exhibition of the work is on view at the Warren Alpert Medical Center of Brown University (222 Richmond St, Providence, RI 02903) from Saturday, February 2 until Friday, May 31, 2019. A closing reception and book signing with Rohina Hoffman will take place Friday, May 24. The accompanying book will be published world wide by Damiani on March 26, 2019.
Hair Stories, is a series of excerpted interviews and color portraits of a diverse array of women ages 14-100, that explores the complex relationship women have with their hair. Created in their home environments, Hoffman adopted the interviewing skills she developed during her training as a neurologist to establish an intimate rapport with her subjects. This allowed for a truthful dialogue about their personal stories and histories and their unique connection to their hair.
In her essay in the book, Hoffman writes: "What I discovered is that hair is a language, a shield, and a trophy. Hair is a construct reflecting our identity, history, femininity, personality, our innermost feelings of self-doubt, aging, vanity, and self-esteem. Hair also has deep sociological roots. It can be indicative of a certain religious or political belief system and like its genetic code, is complicated and touches our very core."
Hair Stories includes an introduction by Emily Lambert-Clements, Art Advisor & Former Associate Director at Fraenkel Gallery, San Francisco, and an essay by Esther R. Berry, Gender and cultural studies scholar and curator, Ryerson University, Toronto.
Lambert-Clements writes how Hoffman's photographs " ... reveal something about the subject beyond their hair: their pain, loss, spirit. There is explicit happiness and sadness in the photographs ... women discuss using their hair as a protective mechanism against society, or against their fears. A woman reflects on losing her hair, and the liberation she finds as a result. For some women, spending effort on their hair is an extension of self-care; for others, leaving their hair in its natural state is a symbol of freedom. ... Hair can also expose a person and humble them. Hair becomes a symbol of our spirit."
Though Hair Stories was conceived and shot before the #MeToo movement, this salient project presents hair as a metaphor for identity, femininity and the manner in which women struggle for control over their own bodies in a misogynistic world. Hair Stories shows that hair is more than just style or aesthetics; it is a physical manifestation of the ongoing hope and history of women.
Hair Stories, the book, comes with an insert featuring thumbnails of each portrait in the book accompanied by a QR code that can be scanned with a camera phone. This allows the reader to listen to excerpts of the audio interviews of the women sharing their stories.
Rohina Hoffman is a fine art portrait photographer working in southern California. Born in India and raised in New Jersey, Hoffman grew up in a family of doctors spanning three generations. While an undergraduate at Brown University, Hoffman also studied photography at Rhode Island School of Design and was a staff photographer for the Brown Daily Herald. A graduate of Brown University Medical School and resident at UCLA Medical Center, her training led to a career as a neurologist. Taught to be a skilled observer of her patients, Hoffman was instilled with a deep and unique appreciation of the human experience. Her ability to forge the sacred trust between doctor and patient has been instrumental in fostering a parallel connection between photographer and subject. Hoffman now works full time as a photographer.
Hoffman has exhibited in juried group shows both nationally and internationally, including at the Los Angeles Center of Photography in Los Angeles, CA, ph21 Gallery in Budapest, Hungary, Southeast Center for Photography in Greenville, SC, dnj Gallery in Santa Monica, CA, Center for Fine Art Photography in Fort Collins, CO, and Providence Center for Photographic Arts in Providence RI, among other venues. Most recently, she recently received a Silver Medal Award at the San Francisco Bay International Photo Show, 2018, and Honorable Mention with the 12th Julia Margaret Cameron Award in the Portrait Category for her series Hair Stories, 2018.