As human beings, we are bound by many things from the common love of the same bands and movies to similar backgrounds and relatable experiences. But for beardsmen, we know there is a bond unlike any other that we share with men far and wide – the bond of the beard.
18 year-old French photographer Manon Guenot has seen that connection, and in bearing witness, decided to take up her camera and piece together a photography project that celebrates it.
“I had the chance to travel in Ireland and just before going there, a friend challenged me to take selfies with bearded people I didn’t know, and I did it,” says Guenot.
“It was amazing – so much so that I decided to do it again in Asheville, North Carolina.
After two days there, I noticed that there were too many bearded people, and I knew that I had to realize a real project with a real camera and a real purpose.”
The result is her newest book of photography entitled “Bearded Strangers,” a collection of more than 100 beardsmen from North Carolina who took time to stop and speak with Guenot, and have their photo committed to print.
“I’m sociable and that’s why approaching people in the street has never been a problem or a fear to me. Quite the contrary – I like to meet and talk with new people, and a project like ‘Bearded Strangers’ allowed me to travel and meet people from new places,” says Guenot.
“I’ve always been intrigued by facial hair. The beard is a beautiful camouflage, a fashionable addition to one’s style, and I wanted to know more about it by meeting bearded strangers. I discovered how open-minded and kind bearded people are.”
The project took more than a year, but Guenot says that every minute has been worth it.
“I travelled in Asheville from the 28th of August to the 24th of September 2015. Three weeks, 106 bearded strangers,” she says.
“When I came back in France with all these pictures, these memories in my computer, I promised myself to not let them sit in a hard drive.
In November, I went to the Salon de la Photo in Paris and discovered Pixalib, a publishing house based on the concept of the self-publishing.
It was a lot of work – Keeping in touch with my bearded strangers, gathering all the rights to the images, editing all the pictures, writing an introduction, the special thanks and the back cover. But I had decided to realize the book of my dreams. My brother, Yann, helped me a lot for the layout. I received my first book in June – I cried my eyes out. ‘Bearded Strangers’ has been such an awesome experience and I still can’t believe that my photographs are gathered in a book.”
Guenot also had a realization during her work on “Bearded Strangers.”
“I know that this project wouldn’t have the same reception in France because beards aren’t perceived the same way as they are in the US,” she explains.
“I tried to photograph bearded people in Paris, and I stopped the day I started. In Asheville, people wanted to know more about the concept of my project, they were amused by the idea, flattered, they understood the artistic side of the project. In France, people were embarrassed and didn’t understand what I was doing. North Carolina was the perfect place to realize this project.”
One moment in particular stands out in Guenot’s mind as especially memorable.
“I’ll always remember my encounter with Ted. Such an amazing guy,” she says.
“I was walking with two of my friends on the pavement of Lexington Avenue when suddenly, something caught my attention on the other side of the road,” she explains.
“There was an amazing bearded man on the opposite side of the road – His beard reached his belt and was swaying with the rhythm of his steps. I started running to the crosswalk but had a red light, so I ran across the road anyway, apologizing to drivers.
I shouted ‘Hey you! Excuse me!’ And he turned around totally confused as to why I was breathless and running after him. I explained my project and he accepted my request with a laugh. It made my day, Ted’s beard is the longest of the project.”
Her experience with “Bearded Strangers” has made Guenot even more appreciative of the majesty of a beard, and her message to beardsmen far and wide is a simple one.
“The beard is a symbol of masculinity, of wisdom. Beards are beautiful, so be proud of yours and please don’t ever shave!”
To learn more about Manon Guenot and get your copy of “Bearded Strangers” visit her website manonguenot.com and pixalib.com.