Photographer Whitley Isa explains the thinking behind her personal project, Corporate Natural Hair, and how lockdown made her re-examine what "looking professional" means for black women.
When you embark on a photography project, it helps to have a strong purpose, a point of view, and a subject matter that people respond to on a personal level. Here's a great example of a series that ticks all those boxes and more.
Corporate Natural Hair features portraits of black women with their natural hairstyles who have corporate jobs. It's the work of Whitley Isa, a photographer who was born and raised in Belgium with Nigerian heritage.
Whitley tells Creative Boom about how the project came about. "I myself still have a part-time corporate job," she explains. "And because of the lockdown last year and not being able to go to a hairdresser, I wore my natural hairstyle for the first time ever to work. I usually have box braids, which is easy to maintain."
This got her thinking of other black women and what reasons they might have about wearing – or not wearing – their natural hairstyle to work.
"My older sister, who works a full-time corporate job, occasionally wears weaves or wigs when she doesn't have a protective hairstyle," says Whitley, "because she has three children and doesn't have enough time in the morning to spend on her hair. Other women might feel pressure to wear a hairstyle more in line with the Eurocentric beauty standards."
Inspired by old corporate portrait paintings, Whitley photographed eight black women in the studio for the project. "I shot them against a brown backdrop and with a brown chair to complement their beautiful skin," she explains. "Their hair and make-up were done by the wonderful Pouchka Duval Wille.
"With this project, I want to showcase the beauty of natural hair and that it is professional," she adds. "Hopefully, the images and stories of these wonderful women can inspire other black women to wear their natural hair occasionally."
Whitley grew up capturing and documenting life around her, from her friends and family to still life and nature. After studying Applied Economics at the Vrije Universiteit Brussels, she decided to turn her hobby of photography into a career, and today she focuses on portraits and fashion.
Inspired by "feminine strength, diversity, and unique beauty", Whitley enjoys creating timeless and emotive imagery. You can discover more of her work at www.whitleyisa.com.