Top Yorkshire hairdresser finds a new focus in photography

He has spent much of his career as a hairdresser, but with a long-held passion for photography, David Charles tells Sarah Freeman why he is now happiest behind the camera.

There’s a photograph hanging in David Charles’ studio. It’s of the singer Jane McDonald. The pair go way back. In his early days running hair salons in West Yorkshire, before the Wakefield singer found fame on the BBC’s fly-on-the wall series The Cruise, it was Charles who was responsible for the singer’s trademark bouff.

Now increasingly known for his photographic work, when he recently embarked on a new project to produce a collection of portraits of the great and good of Yorkshire, MacDonald was the first name on his list.

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“When they made The Cruise, Jane wanted me to go with her to be her stylist, but it didn’t quite work out,” he says. “We’ve always remained friends though and it’s been lovely to be able to work with her again. She’s always good fun and brilliant to photograph.”

The image taking pride of place in his studio is one that Jane has used on an album cover and Charles has also been poised with his camera at her live performances. “There is one shot taken from the back of the stage which shows what Jane sees when she is performing. It’s incredibly tricky to light because you need to see just enough of the crowd, but not too much. It’s also about capturing the atmosphere, which is always pretty special.”

“As you would imagine she’s very laid back. I tell her what I want to do and the shots I’d like to get and she generally says, ‘Go for it David’.”

Charles’ twin loves of hairdressing and photography have always run side by side, but it was the former on which he built his first career. At 18 years old he won a hairdressing competition in Leeds and, having come top of the North East section, made it to the first of many national finals.

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“I don’t know where my love of hairdressing came from, but from a really early age I knew that’s what I wanted to do,” he says, now living on a former farm close to York. “I guess I’ve always been creative and from that perspective photography and hairdressing share much in common.

David Charles.David Charles.
David Charles.

“Both are about having an eye on the end result and knowing how to get the best possible look. I want to make people look and feel the best they possibly can.”

Before much was known about it over here, Charles trained at the Institute of Biosthetics in Paris and became registered with the British Register of Complementary Practitioners as a dermo-trichologist. Specialising in scalp conditions and hair loss, he knows the impact isn’t just physical. “When people lose their hair they often lose the confidence and self-esteem. Often hair loss is caused by stress, but there are 101 other reasons and if you can find out what’s causing it you can then start to treat it.

“A massive industry has grown up around the problem, but you can end up spending huge amounts of money on shampoos and treatments that will do nothing at all. People buy them because they are desperate and willing to try anything.”

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Charles no longer advertises his trichology work, although he still gets word of mouth recommendations and many of his clients are those who first came to him with a hair-loss problem. “It’s hugely satisfying,” he says. “The first thing I will always do is take a small sample of their hair and analyse the bulbs because it’s only by doing that that you really tell what’s going on beneath the surface.”

Hairdressing is in the Charles family’s blood. Wife Liz works alongside him both in the hair salon and in the photographic studio, daughter Emma is a freelance hairstylist who regularly works on London Fashion Week and son Ross runs his own successful salon in York.

Together, father and son have proved a pretty formidable act. “For two years running Ross commissioned me to do the photographs which helped him qualify for the L’Oreal Colour Trophy regional finals. I then shot his collections which for the last two years have secured him a place in the national finals of the British Hairdresser of the Year Awards.

“Ross’ style is really striking and quite graphic. His work is made to be photographed and is lovely to be able to work with him. I am really proud just to have played a small part in his success.”

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As his photographic work grows, Charles has two very personal projects that he’s like to complete. “I want to find more subjects for the Yorkshire portrait collection,” he says. “The county has produced so many wonderful people. The other thing I’m really keen to do is shine a spotlight on older women.I know from talking to so many of my own clients that when the reach 50, women can start to feel invisible. I think it’s time that we celebrated age and experience and I want to show how beautiful older women can be.

“They say a picture tells a thousand words, 
but a face can also tell a story, one of a life well lived.”