Beards have been part of a modern man’s style for some time now, with beard care products and the affinity for fuzzy faces seemingly skyrocketing in popularity in recent years. But sometimes it can be easy to forget that beards have been ingrained in our culture for far longer than Instagram would have you believe.
That’s where the MKE Beard Book comes in.
“I’m the only girl in my family, I have three brothers, so I’ve always been the girl hanging around the guys, and I think I’ve always been interested in and attracted to men’s culture.” says photographer and MKE Beard Book creator Jessica Kaminski.
“I wanted to take a look around me and look into [beards] a little deeper and see what my own conclusion about them would be.”
To delve into the beard culture of Milwaukee and share it with the world, Kaminski decided to combine her interest in men’s culture and her career in photography, compiling portraits of real working men from the Midwest.
“My career has spanned a lot of different types of photography but it was really within the last few years that I wanted to focus on portraiture,” says Kaminski.
“As a portrait artist you really start to look at people and pay attention to what’s going on around you, and last winter I was looking at all these beautiful photographs on Instagram of these men and their beards and it really got me thinking because being in the Midwest, [beards] were something I grew up with, but not necessarily the way it was being depicted in the social media outlets.”
Kaminski continues on, explaining her experience with the beard culture growing up in Milwaukee.
“One of the big things in Milwaukee is Harley Davidson, so I was always seeing these guys with big beards. Another thing that’s prominent here is blue collar workers, so having a beard is kind of a practical choice,” she says.
“But it seemed like no one was really paying much attention to it until the last few years with the rise of beard products and the resurgence of beards as a style all came into the mainstream again.”
Kaminski’s interest in local bearded culture suddenly intersected with her love of photography.
“My boyfriend has a really beautiful beard, and he was the subject of some of the first photos I took,” she says.
“I felt like ‘I really get excited about taking these pictures,’ and it slowly started to blossom into this big project.”
She admits that the idea of putting a bearded man in front of a camera isn’t a new idea, but the route that she chose with her MKE Beard Book was decidedly different, and her goal quite distinct.
“Some people I think were expecting it to be this studio book of models with tattoos, kind of the look you’ve been seeing a lot of online, but what I was really attracted to was the bigger picture of beards,” she explains.
“When you start photographing these people you get to hear their stories. One man was in the military and told me how the second he got out of the military he started growing his beard, and another guy told me he was celebrating his beard’s 67th birthday. I really want people to know that there are a lot of different reasons that guys have beards, and I don’t think beards are going anywhere anytime soon at all. I grew up here in Milwaukee and it’s always been part of our culture here, and I’m excited that it’s getting more widespread attention. I just wanted this book to help people realize that this isn’t a fad.”
The book officially launched this past November, with portions of proceeds going toward the No-Shave November organization. And now that the hard work has culminated in the publication of her first book of portraits, Kaminski has had time to reflect and decide what comes next for her and the project.
“People have been enjoying it, I think they got something that was diverse, in terms of the people I photographed, the locations around Milwaukee, ethnicities, ages, I tried to make it as well-rounded as possible and it seems like people loved that,” she says.
“I’ve thought about starting a blog and maybe doing a second volume. This book is really portrait-heavy, so there isn’t a lot of in-depth information about who these guys are so it could be interesting to dive into the back stories of these guys too. I definitely don’t think this is done. I thought it would be, but now that the book is out I feel like there’s still so much more here to do.”
To learn more about Kaminski and the MKE Beard Book, and to order your copy, visit MKEBeardBook.com.