They’ll likely be extinct in the next 100 years: red-haired children, I mean.
At least that rumor goes around, alongside endless stories, facts and myths about red-haired people.
At first, I was intrigued by the extraordinary looks of these children. Especially the children, because they’re still young, not aware of their looks; very pure and natural. Their orange-red hair, their pale skin with clusters of freckles and their bright, light eyes are just breathtaking and magical to me. At times, they even seemed translucent.
Later, I learned more about red-haired people and became fascinated by the specific MC1R-gene. For centuries, they have been of worldwide interest—but that is not surprising, when you consider that only two percent of the human population carries this unique red head gene.
This worldwide interest wasn’t (and isn’t) always positive though. In the Middle Ages, they were thought to be vampires, werewolves, and bewitched. In those days, red-heads often died at the stake. Some people say they have hot tempers and extreme sex drives. Others say they are acutely sensitive to pain. Also many red-heads have undergone ”ginger” discrimination and bullying.
Some people say such talk of “gingerism” is overblown. Perhaps, but as recently as 2011, one of the largest sperm banks in the world (Cryos in Denmark) closed its doors to donors with red hair. The reason? Because there was such a low demand for children carrying this rare gene.
I know that red-haired people don’t want to be examined as special, different or exotic. They don’t want to be stereotyped, even fetishized. I understand their skepticism. Although people nowadays see the beauty of their looks, they’re a group with a history of bullying and abuse, all because of their hair color.
Nevertheless, for the past several years, I have been photographing children with red hair. I have found and portrayed them in The Netherlands, The United States and Ireland. I approach my red-haired models with respect and honesty and I photograph their mystical and powerful appearance in a setting of my own choosing. Next to my portraits, I’m seeking to discover the truth behind the myths. If it’s true that they’re threatened with extinction, I might even be photographing history.