buzzcut season

In Buzzcut Season, This Photographer Is Capturing The Pandemic Through The Context Of Hair

Yes, it is a Lorde reference, too.

Challenged by the continuing crisis, catharsis, and conference calls, Joseph Pascual cuts across connections, isolation, and hair in his compelling digital exhibit, Buzzcut Season.

“Have you shaved your head or in any way dramatically altered your hair during lockdown? Conversely, have you instead let it grow?” And so went the open call Filipino photographer, Joseph Pascual, had sent out on social media sometime at the end of April, trickling through the awning of May of last year. The proposition was simple: In a medium-term project, the goal was to explore our collective restlessness, its consequences, and the passage of a surplus of time and sorrow in the context of isolation, and well, hair, well within spatial limits. “I’m serious,” he punctuated firmly, you know, for good measure. This was the genesis of Buzzcut Season, his current digital exhibition that recently went live on the fresh and functional website of Tarzeer Pictures.

joseph pascual buzzcut season

Borne out of loneliness, frustration, and the compulsive desire to create, Buzzcut Season is a challenge, as it is a commentary, that confronts the concept of connections, or lack thereof, amid the punishing pandemic. “I just wanted to know what we all looked like,” Joseph Pascual says casually, having also just cut his own hair (as many have done so) when the idea started to take form in his head. “I had recently seen Frances Kearney’s 1998 project Five People Thinking The Same Thing, images of people in their spaces turned away from view, and it felt so similar to our time.”

“Last year was a difficult time for all of us, with the uncertainty and fear about the pandemic, which sadly continues,” he says. “With everyone sheltering at home and haircuts in particular going from a regular act of presentation, to an inessential risk. Were we shaving our heads bald, getting weird bangs, or letting it all grow out? Were we going Vin Diesel or Jesus Christ? Jared Leto or Evan Mock?”


Hair Is Everything

Whether one skews closer to a shave or explores the many possibilities of length, the fact of the matter is: Hair is such a sacred signifier of the self. As personal as it is to everyone, marking moments in snips of maintenance or dramatic chops, no one is acutely aware of this than Joseph Pascual, who himself has gone through quite the exploration with his own haircuts.

“Hair is so immediate to me. I obsess over mine, because I’m beginning to go bald. Before the pandemic I’d get interesting haircuts, knowing I didn’t have much time left with a full head of hair. Buzzing my head during lockdown was a practical move, but it also felt freeing. I think everyone has a strong relationship with their own hair. That was one of the first questions that started Buzzcut Season,” he explains, furthering how each cut is telling of our own phases in life, a bookmark in the story if you will.

“Hair is also a choice,” says Joseph definitively. “In an episode of Fleabag, the protagonist confronts a hair stylist after her sister Claire’s drastic haircut, and Fleabag says, ‘hair is everything.’ A little dramatic, but what we do with our hair, or allow to happen to it, reveals us.”

The Becoming Of Buzzcut Season

joseph pascual buzzcut season

In Buzzcut Season, a lot is revealed in deceptively diminutive rectangles, often rendered in repetitive in tiles, perhaps to illustrate the lingering drawl of time in the landscape of conference calls and crippled connection—that is meant in both the emotional and internet bandwidth sense. “Last year, Zoom shoots had a moment, and all those images, from brand campaigns or magazine covers to smaller personal projects, show how the creative field adapted to the pandemic and its restrictions on movement and gatherings,” details Joseph Pascual. “Taking what are essentially screen shots of a Zoom call situates this project firmly in that time. Buzzcut Season wouldn’t have happened otherwise, and I think its existence and digital exhibition both are a direct response to our collective isolation in 2020.”

While in no way in opposition of innovative movements in photography, shooting through the lens of a Zoom interface was a curve ball for him. Considering everything from space, speed, and a semblance of letting go of full control, it certainly proved to be quite the insight to his already evocative, nuanced, and resonant imagery. You see, there is a sublime and often surreptitious quality to the work of Joseph Pascual.

Quiet and thoughtful, his sessions will show you in a different light, one that maybe you aren’t attuned to just yet. Profoundly illuminating, whether be a stolen moment amid the blur of disco lights and maps of sweat, a quick shift in gaze, or a candid expression of sadness, his images are striking and sensorial, just as are the conversations that inform these pockets of time made into memory. Together with the constraints of the mandate in movements, all these accounted for the decidedly deep discourse that Buzzcut Season eventually stirs.

And Yet We Cope

“I’m more used to shooting my subjects in person, but portraits, like haircuts, had become risky. When we collectively adopted Zoom it seemed like the best medium to create the images. We would be safely apart with the laptop or phone cameras we already had. There was a lot of stillness and restlessness I was feeling myself then, which I think we all shared. I tried to capture that for what it was,” shares Joseph Pascual of the process that Buzzcut Season had to go through. “I shared my doubts that video conferencing would have the same fidelity as traditional photography. This project reminded me that beyond megapixels or professional equipment, it’s the connection between people that makes a portrait. I love that idea.”

Throughout his confrontation of the pandemic through the passion project that is Buzzcut Season, the breakthrough came in an unsuspecting wisdom. Sure, we are remotely aware of this, mainly because we are into the thick of it ourselves, but with the space and time to think, it was definitely a shift in the storytelling. “I’ve learned that there’s no single way to cope with uncertainty,” says Joseph Pascual. “When the world ends, some  people will rush for the life boats, some bake bread, and some shave their heads.” 

Oh, the lengths we will go to indeed.

From navigating compounded loneliness, Lorde, and the promise of what comes next, here is the rest of our conversation with Joseph Pascual:

joseph pascual buzzcut season

Was this in any way inspired by the eponymous Lorde track?

Absolutely. The connection is tenuous, but her track immediately came to mind when I was thinking of what to name the project. The title was a literal description of my own situation—lyrics, less so, but I forgive myself.

Rendered in the interface of Zoom, what is the bigger picture of Buzzcut Season?

Buzzcut Season is a medium term two-part project. I intend to visit my subjects after the pandemic to recreate the images in Part 2 and see how both portrait sittings relate to each other then.

While we are far from the clear of the pandemic, why did you feel like it was time to release this now and with Tarzeer Pictures at that?

It was surprise when Tarzeer Pictures reached out to me, to feature Part 1 in its website launch! Gio Panlilio, one of TZP’s co-founders, found out about Buzzcut Season—we then worked together on a way to present Part 1, and his input helped develop this initial phase into its current form of moving images, contact sheets, and diptychs. 

Is there an image that you took so far in the pandemic that you feel best describes the past year and so?

There’s a calendar at home marked with over 50 birthdays of our extended family. I photographed the month of December to commemorate a year’s worth of lost time together, but then imagined how great our reunions would be instead, when it’s safe to do so. I think optimism is the single delusion we need to have, especially now. It’s what makes me look forward to seeing people again: family, my subjects in Buzzcut Season, my friends, everyone.

What are you most looking forward to post-pandemic, whenever that is?

Honestly? Being bored at a bar and wanting to go home. 

Buzzcut Season is available for viewing at the online space of Tarzeer Pictures. Described as “a gallery and creative production group based in Manila,” they are “dedicated to the creation and development of photo, video, and image based works made by Filipino artists,” which can also be seen now.