One of the great strengths of art is the ability to open minds by drawing the attention of the general public to topics that are not often discussed. This is what Sigga Ella does through her photographic projects. We talk with her about her Baldvin series, which deals with women suffering from alopecia, an autoimmune condition that results in hair loss. An opportunity to address the question of the place of women’s hair in society, but also that of commitment to art.
Hello Sigga, can you introduce yourself to our readers?
I am Sigga Ella photographer from Akureyri, Iceland.
“I took portraits of seven women who wanted to raise awareness about their condition […]”
How did your passion for photography begin?
My interest for photography begin when I was a little girl. I always had one of these single use camera on me or I would use my mothers film cameras to document my life.
How did your series Baldvin begin ?
Baldvin is a project I did in collaboration with association in Iceland called Baldvin (which means strength). I took portraits of seven women who wanted to raise awareness about their condition, which is Alopecia – an Autoimmune disorder that causes the loss of hair.
“Many stereotypes exist about gender, one of them is that women should have long hair.”
Alopecia is not a condition we often hear about. However, it raises important questions, especially about the place of women’s hair in the society’s vision of “femininity”. Did you have a specific goal when you started this series?
Alopecia Areata is a autoimmune disorder that commonly results in unpredictable hair loss. In most cases, hair falls out in small patches around the size of a quarter. For many people, the hair loss is nothing more than a few patches. Sometimes it can lead to the complete loss of hair on the scalp or in extreme cases the entire body.
Many stereotypes exist about gender, one of them is that women should have long hair. Therefore bald women aren’t always accepted in our society like women with long hair would be. Here are a few quotes from the women in the project :
“I think society is struggling more with accepting bald women because people are not used to see them. When they do I suspect people assume that she is undergoing cancer treatment and that she’s really sick – but people don’t think that when they see a bald man. If there was more awareness among the public about alopecia it would surely help women so they wouldn’t have to hide this disease.”
” You have to be strong to handle the attention that you get being bald in public, whether is negative or positive. You always draw attention and sometimes that’s not what you want.”
“I am sure being a bald woman can affect the possibilities of getting a job, like for example in the service industry. There are many bald male servants, but I would only expect to see a bald waitress in a hip and cool restaurant. That I find extremely silly.”
“[…] it was important to show them just as they are.”
“Very often, when people have seen me with my wig, they say, ‘Wow, you look beautiful, I hardly recognized you!’ In my opinion this reflects the norm: that women without hair are not beautiful, but the moment they put on their hair it surprises people that they are beautiful. Hair is also used a lot in commercials aimed at women, and then hair is a symbol of sex appeal. But then why do bald men still have sex appeal? Could it be because we live in a society where men have so much more power than women?”
There is a mixture of strength and softness in the eyes of your models. What did you want to communicate through these portraits?
Awareness about Alopecia so it was important to show them just as they are.
“Underrepresented people & groups are close to my heart.”
Your work often seems to be committed to breaking stereotypes. Do you think that art in general has a certain responsibility to defend certain causes, or to denounce injustices?
I think all of us in society have responsibility to defend one and another and celebrate diversity.
What are the causes that are close to your heart, and which you have not yet addressed in your images?
Underrepresented people & groups are close to my heart. For the last years I have had mail from people who thank me for drawing attention to the disorder in this manner, and at the same time there has opened up a conversation about the disorder in the comments section, where people with alopecia chat with one another, which is extremely important and valuable.
“Do what you love and the rest will follow”
What advice would you give to new photographers?
“Do what you love and the rest will follow” Follow your passion, go out of your comfort zone, be curious and take photos.
Do you have any ongoing projects you can tell us about?
I have one long term ongoing photo project that will continue for at least 15 more years and another one which I can hopefully share with you in a year.