Lydia Garnett’s Close Shave chronicles Butch style in all its iconic, tender glory

The series emulates the sharp black and white portraits often seen in barbershop windows while “paying homage to Dyke culture, style and haircuts”.

7 November 2022

Getting your haircut can be both a meditative and intimate moment: a catch up with your barber; the relaxation of getting your hair washed; and a quiet moment to allow your mind to wander. Therefore, it might be unsurprising to learn that the seed for Lydia Garnett’s most recent series Close Shave was planted when they were sitting in the barbershop chair. Having their haircut by friend – and now collaborator – Zara Toppin, during the trim, the two began to form the idea of showing a new collection of Lydia’s work at Zara’s studio in Sunbury Workshops.

It was upon later chatting to curator Lucy Nurnberg that the series really began to take shape. Lucy had the idea of taking direct inspiration from the Butch barbershop experience, an idea that instantly resonated with Lydia. “Aesthetically, I’ve always loved the black and white portraits you see in barbershop windows – all the masculine, handsome, sharp cuts – and I knew we could achieve this kind of imagery while paying homage to Dyke culture, style and haircuts,” she says.

Importantly, Lydia continues to explain, the exhibition would be one that not only demonstrated iconic Butch style and the numerous methods of self-expression, but also one that highlighted the prevalence and pertinence of Butch-on-Butch tenderness. “There’s something special about Butch-on-Butch care and validation, and the series is very much about Butch-on-Butch trust and love,” Lydia shares. “I've always been drawn to that tenderness below the surface and I think it’s quite a special thing to have access to.”


Lydia Garnett: Close Shave (Copyright © Lydia Garnett, 2022)

Inspiration is something Lydia has never been short of, and she cites the “queer documentarians” Catherine Opie, Chloe Sherman and Nan Goldin as being central figures in forming her broader creative approach. For the Close Shave project in particular, Lydia highlights Phyllis Christopher’s book Darkroom as being particularly influential. “To see this archive of Dyke happenings, sex, protest and playfulness is so uplifting and it teaches us so much about our queer history,” they say. “I think it is exciting to feel like you’re contributing to the incredible Dyke archive.”

To craft such an intimate, honest and warm feeling throughout the series, Lydia capitalised on “connection”. She explains: “I wanted there to be a lot of strong eye contact and powerful poses, but I also wanted the portraits to feel relaxed.” To further this focus on relaxation, the subjects wore all their own clothing and accessories, a decision that Lydia also sees as adding to the “effortless” feel of the styling. “People came as they are or brought a Butch look. I like that there is a range of aesthetics, from faded T-Shirts, vintage suits, ties, white vests and boxers. The different snapshots and styles make the series feel full as a whole and it’s very true of the community as I experience it.” The project was shot in a studio with lighting by Jody and everyone’s hair was styled by Zara, “collectively creating a special Dyke experience”, Lydia adds.

Realised in black and white, the series has a classic, refined feel to it – something that Lydia highlights in some of her favourite images from the series. The one of Gabby, for instance, depicts “a strong moment, the eye contact the hands on hips. It feels so intimate and confident”. And the portrait of Zara sees hands in their pockets, staring straight down the lens of the camera. “It was such a satisfying moment to photograph them in all their butch glory,” Lydia reflects. “I love how classic and editorial it feels. It’s a bit moody, and a bit romantic.” Then, sandwiched between are the moments of tenderness Lydia was so intent to document: a leather-bound embrace, moments of laughter, the beginnings of a smile breaking through.

Looking back over the project, for Lydia, what stands out is the “iconic collaboration”. On teaming up with Zara and Lucy, Lydia says: “It’s amazing to work with people you trust and admire so much, and they understand you and what you’re trying to say in return. There’s no way we could have done this without each other.” Receiving brilliant responses, Lydia tells us that people have really connected to the exhibition. “I’m really proud of it, which is a really nice feeling”, they say, “and if people can see themselves in some way or enjoy the gaze looking back from the photos then that’s great.”

You can book to see Close Shave at Sunbury Workshops at the link below. Running until November 18th.

GalleryLydia Garnett: Close Shave (Copyright © Lydia Garnett, 2022)

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Lydia Garnett: Close Shave (Copyright © Lydia Garnett, 2022)

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About the Author

Olivia Hingley

Olivia (she/her) joined the It’s Nice That team as an editorial assistant in November 2021 and soon became staff writer. A graduate of the University of Edinburgh with a degree in English Literature and History, she’s particularly interested in photography, publications and type design.

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