With the resurgence of beard popularity, portraits of fuzzy men have practically formed their own genre.
Photographer Justin James Muir’s “A Book of Beards” series adds a highly personalized voice into the mix. After moving to West Chester, Pa., Muir became aware of the town’s bold beard culture that seemed to be at odds with its otherwise “neat and tidy” atmosphere. After snapping a few photographs, Muir’s obsession with beards was born. He first photographed friends, then began approaching strangers on the street, whom he photographed in a small, portable studio he built and carried around with him for this purpose.
In 2011, Muir’s good friend Mike was diagnosed with testicular cancer. Because Mike didn’t have health insurance, Muir decided to turn the beard project into a self-published book (with Mike on the cover) so he could raise money for Mike’s mounting medical bills. All proceeds from the first printing went directly to Mike. Mike is currently in great shape, and the book has sold far more copies than Muir had imagined since it’s only available for sale on his website. As part of his ongoing commitment to fighting cancer, Muir will donate all proceeds after the first pressing to the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. This is inspired by Muir’s twin brother, who was diagnosed with leukemia in 1997 (and is now healthy and fully recovered).
Muir wrote via email: “I took about 150 portraits, and 86 men made it into the book. It took me just over a year to finish the project. Yeah, I still take beard portraits. ... I am currently working on revisiting some of the guys in the book and shooting them in a different style. We'll see if anything comes of it.”
The book also includes several anecdotes that Muir collected from his subjects. “I didn’t really have a length or style in mind; you just needed to have a beard. I'm glad there are some shorter, less spectacular ones in there, because I think it shows how different everyone’s beard experience can be.”