Iris Haverkamp Begemann (Dordrecht, 1989) is a documentary and portrait photographer based in Amsterdam, the Netherlands. Growing up she has always been shooting film, especially pictures of her loved ones. She has a BA in Journalism from the Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences. Afterward, she completed two years of studying photography at De Fotoacademie in Amsterdam. Although this study mainly focuses on digital photography, Iris returned to her first love, analog photography. In her work, she questions the relationship between human beings and/or nature. Through philosophical and anthropological research, her photo series investigates social conventions and human behavior.
COVHEADS (2020) is a project by photographer Iris Haverkamp Begemann regarding the recently emerged phenomenon of ‘Cov Heads’: people who shave their heads in response to COVID-19. The project can be seen as a time document that seeks to capture and hopefully preserve both the tragic and romantic zeitgeist of the crisis as an archival document of the changing city of Amsterdam. Apart from charity movements (including fundraising) or for practical reasons (such as that the hairdressers are currently closed), the shaved head appears to symbolize a deeper meaning for many.
For Iris Haverkamp Begemann this photo series confronts her with various prevailing associations that the shaved head evokes her. Our cultural and historical frame of reference transforms the shaved head into a haircut loaded with different meanings and references to, for example, the Holocaust, muff girls, gabbers, medical conditions, and religious beliefs.
From the perspective of Christianity (Old Testament), being bald is associated with experiencing negative emotions such as mourning. Head and hair represent intelligence, wisdom, and truth, where a shaved head marks a loss of divine truth. Buddhist monks, on the other hand, shaved their heads to show that they renounced earthly pleasures. From the Eastern religion, especially Buddhism, the shaved head carries a meaning of order, purity, determination, and enlightenment. Because hair is often used as a metaphor for the human illusion of being ignorant – “weeds of ignorance” – the removal of hair implies getting rid of ignorance and a return to a pure state of mind, both body and soul.
The corona crisis has deprived us of much of our earthly pleasures. The pre-corona society focused primarily on generating income to participate in consumer society. Driven by a capitalist system, we pursued socially desirable standards of success. Now that society is paused, it offers some people a moment of reflection to perhaps turn things around.
After investigating the motivation of the portrayed people for shaving their heads, Iris Haverkamp Begemann concluded: a shaved head against the norm, against expectations, without vanity, without expectations from your employer or environment, because now everything is different. But also, now that we have to stick to the rules and stay at home obediently, shaving your head offers a feeling of control, self-determination, and rebellion. Against society, in which we participated equally, but with which we, in retrospect, apparently lost a sense of self-determination.
The pandemic places things in a new perspective, such as that it puts the insignificance of man against the power of nature. Faced with death, things like vanity, conventions, and finery seem insignificant, and there is a desire to return to the essence. More than ever, there is an urge for authenticity and purity, fuelled by true love and satisfaction with what you have, rather than what is considered cool or beautiful.
Shaving the head is a physical manifestation of this change. An act of devotion, a rite, a consecration. It is the marking of a moment, an event; it is a turning point: breaking with the past—the end of an era. Even though hair will grow back, we’ll hopefully preserve the encountered enlightenment for the future.
To view more of iris haverkamp begemann’s work please visit their website.