‘No one has to have their photo taken,’ Jack Latham would say to the women having their hair done at Mo & Co in Cardiff’s Daisy Street, ‘but if you feel beautiful, we can take a photograph.’ The invitation was so simple, so easy to say yes to. ‘Am I not having my photo taken too?’ Mary, the woman on page 223, asked Latham. ‘I feel beautiful.’ In her portrait, Mary tips herself towards the camera, smiling with the left side of her mouth, just about. One eye is ringed red and the other is bruised – yesterday was not a good day, yesterday she fell – and yet now her hair is softly curled, artfully swept to her right, newly blonder at the tips. She is ready to face the world again. In fact – she looks like she’ll launch at it, head first.
Returned to his home town in winter 2019, Latham spotted the salon from his flat across the street, and promised himself he would go once lockdown had lifted. His grandmother died at the start of the pandemic, and he had not been allowed to see her. When the salon reopened, from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. on Thursdays and Fridays, Latham would make himself useful: sweeping up hair, chatting to the ladies, driving them home, carrying their shopping. Over the years that Latham made these portraits, he had to bear a break-up, a death, a parent’s illness. ‘I knew nothing bad could happen in a hair salon,’ the recent divorcee in Sheila Heti’s How Should a Person Be? says, ‘and nothing out of the ordinary ever did.’ To be in a hair salon is to be bubble-wrapped against the world – or at least that’s the fantasy.