Inside the New Beauty Zine Taking Inspiration from Subcultural Hairstyles

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What Was, Will Always Be Zine by Michael Harding
What Was, Will Always BePhotography by Rodrigo Carmuega, Hair by Michael Harding, Styling by Hannah Elwell, Creative Direction by TAS Creative Studio

Michael Harding’s new zine What Was, Will Always Be is “a visual love letter” to hair – and the subcultures that inspired him

“The zine is a visual love letter, so I felt it wasn’t necessary to inform the viewers through any written descriptions,” says Michael Harding, of his new project What Was, Will Always Be, a self-published, delicate beauty zine with an emphasis on human character – and hair, of course. 

A session hairstylist who has worked with AnOther, Dazed, Jacquemus and Fendi, among others, Harding launched beauty magazine Altered States in 2020 with his partner Hannah Elwell, a stylist. “Our magazine isn’t for people that just care about eyeliner and hairspray,” he told AnOther at the time. Instead, it was inspired by subculture (from the LGBTQ+ community to skateboarders), and has featured editorials by Ian Kenneth Bird and Tom Johnson alongside a mix of standout archive imagery. Beauty, it would seem, is the premise for play. 

Harding’s new zine What Was, Will Always Be is subculture-focussed again, driven this time by a fixation on the rocker subculture movement in Norway during the 1950s and by documentary photography shot in Provincetown during the late 1970s. With imagery Harding describes as a “balance between documentary and fashion”, hair is the prime focus in a series of soft, simple portraits by Rodrigo Carmuega.

“Producing a magazine is very different to a zine on many levels,” explains Harding. “Altered States requires engaging with multiple fashion artists, which means there are many production variables to consider and even more expectations to manage. With the zine it was only one team working across all three parts, with the exception of casting.”

As for the value of print objects, Harding is steadfast in his belief. “It’s a physical archive which allows the viewer to revisit it on their own terms, rather than the digital world where things are driven by the consumption of information,” he says. “But what’s even more important than print is print quality – we have a responsibility to the collaborators to ensure their work is conveyed in the right tone.”

The zine features no written words, which may seem like an odd choice considering the medium’s text-heavy origins. But images are the main message here, plus, they can convey things that language can’t. “I wanted to allow for intrigue and an opportunity for the viewer to interpret the work on their own terms,” says Harding.

The exhibition of What Was, Will Always Be launches from 9 February 2022, 6-9pm at Have A Butchers gallery in association with Hempstead May and May Print.