Insights from one of the judges for the creative hairdressing awards, Carl Keely

Cathy Davys and Carl Keely interview

Cathy Davys recently interviewed Carl Keely, a New Zealander based in Melbourne, who has won over 200 awards with his team and is hairdressing royalty, plus an amazingly talented photographer! Carl is honoured to be one of the judges for the creative section of The Industry Awards 2021 to be held in November, with entries closing on 14 September 2021.

What is your advice for entrants?

The stuff that comes out of New Zealand is just exciting. You should definitely have a goal in mind, in this case The Industry Awards is an excellent goal.

Take the time to create a mood board based on research, where you think things are going and what you think you have to offer. Then really refine that mood board with your sequence of shots, your models, your practice work and really working your team to keep them all on the same page.

On the day, everyone needs to know exactly what you’re wanting to achieve and how to get the desired outcome, because on the day of the shoot, there's a lot of pressure and you don't want to be making things up on the day under pressure. That is my main piece of advice and as a photographer, I'm super strict with that. There's a lot of time pressure. There's a lot of money pressure. There's a lot of people looking at you as the hairdresser and if you don't have the ability to produce it right then it gets stressful.

What about for stylists just starting out?

I did my first photographic competition as a hairdresser in 1989 in Auckland and I didn't have any funds. I had a fantastic employer that was backing me, and we found a student photographer and we had a client that looked like she could do a bit of modelling. You know, we sort of just cobbled it together and I either came second or won it, I don’t quite remember.

I then thought, I can do this. You’ve just got to start. And luckily now you’ve got phones, you know - I'm a dinosaur, so back in those days we had film. There was no feedback on the day. It was, take the photo and hope for the best. Now I can see if we’ve got an image or not immediately.

These days if you've got an iPhone you can start shooting. You can start to train your eye.
What looks good on camera is not the same as what looks good in real life. There's a really big difference. You've got to change gears and change brains to feed the camera what it needs.
And the iPhone is perfect. You know it costs you nothing to take a shot.

What are you looking for when judging?

I'm looking for hair. I know that sounds like a really boring answer but I'm looking for the best hairdresser, I want to see interesting hair. Exciting hair. I've been a hairdresser since 1988. I've seen a lot of hair. I still get excited when I see someone create really good hair. I really want to look, and be interested to look even further and spend longer exploring what's been created.

Obviously, model selection is massive. The better the model the better the chance. You can have fantastic hair, a fantastic model and you're pretty much on the way there because the person taking the photo doesn't have to do anything. It's just all there in front of them.

I always start with the hair. Interesting concepts, interesting shape, texture, colour, balance - the normal things we look for in the salon every day.

I want to see something that explores and celebrates our craft. I want to sense the amount of workmanship that's gone into that hair and appreciate that. I want to see something that's like - Wow that's amazing.

If you get me or any other judge thinking to themselves, how did they do that? Then you’re a step closer to picking up that trophy.

We want to be intrigued by the hair and of course it's got to be beautiful and beautiful comes in many many costumes. It doesn't have to be traditionally beautiful. It can be different-beautiful. It can be alternate-beautiful. There's got to be something in there though that catches the eye and makes you want to look further.

I don't want to see the photographer or the retoucher. I don't want to see that hand being played. I have a lot of people asking how much photoshop and compositing of hair goes on. Honestly, there's a lot, you know, a lot goes on behind the scenes and I don't like it necessarily. I don't do a lot of photo manipulation of hair. If it's not good hair, I'm not going to make good hair in photoshop for you. That's just a rule. If you can't produce on the day, it's not going to happen.

You should never turn to the photographer and say, can you fix this in post? Can we do this or do that? My answer is no. If you can't do the hair, you don't deserve to win. It's about the hairdresser creating, otherwise to me it's cheating.

It doesn't mean we don't clean up skin and enhance a few things but I'm not putting a different half a head of hair on someone.

Competing is part of the journey. It takes a long time to make a great hairdresser. Competitions are one of the ways you can speed things up. Get yourself out there yourself. Be seen, get some feedback. Whether it's good or bad, I learn more from losing than winning.

Where do you get your inspiration?

Back in the day we used to have magazines and that's not a thing anymore. But I have magazines that are very old. I used to collect Italian Vogue for decades. I've got piles of them. I have a large archive of photographic work from hairdressing. Both my wife and I will pick up things and save things on our phone and digital archives and we'll share those back to the team.

Obviously, fashion is a thing. It's hard right now. There's not a lot going on but music is probably the biggest mover. So, if you're watching and consuming music, you're basically understanding culture today. I consume a lot of music videos and audio and I consume a lot of music outside of my normal playlist. So I get a lot of inspiration that way.

If you want to watch Cathy and Carl's chat, head over to The Industry Awards Instagram page, where we'll be posting the highlights in a five part series!

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