One of the most familiar faces on the hair scene, Desmond Murray is known for his bold vision and big personality – alongside a unique hairdressing talent. But his career almost took another path, and it is a passion that has always burned brightly.
“I started out assisting renowned photographers Max Bradley and Paul Pannock during the 80s,” Desmond explains. “We were shooting for titles such as Vogue, iD and Arena. I was taught the techniques needed to create mind-blowing editorial images, and the technical skills to bring them to life.”
Desmond honed his hairdressing skills and mastered the discipline required to take you to the top of your game as a stylist at the epitomé of hairdressing excellence – Sassoon. And indeed the very top is where Desmond landed. As well as appearing on TV shows and tending to celebrity clients, Desmond has acted extensively as an ambassador for global hair brands over the past 30 years and ran his eponymous salon in Covent Garden for over half a decade. He’s also assisted some of the industry greats – such as Eugene Souleiman and Sam McKnight backstage at Fashion weeks around the world, and of course there’s a shelf full of awards.
While Desmond continued to shoot at every opportunity, it was a recent, chance encounter that made him reassess his love of photography. “I was in Selfridges and I saw a set of campaign images for a beauty brand that literally stopped me in my tracks,” explains Desmond. “I stood looking at them for 10 minutes thinking, ‘why am I not shooting hair images like that and why am I not doing hair like that?’ They were stripped back and the hair was uncontrived and easy – just beautiful.”
And so, a new concept – POP-UP Hair Photography was born. Desmond is on a mission to reinvent the way that hair images are conceived and created. “I think we’ve all become a bit conditioned to shoot to an agenda such as collections to win awards, or to sell a product. But my feeling was, why not just shoot beautiful hair because – as hairdressers – this is what we’re great at.”
For Desmond, the correlation between creating amazing hair and capturing it on camera is a process he views as seamless. “As hairdressers, our images are our legacy, “ he enthuses. “When I think back to the images that were created when I was with Sassoon they were trailblazing and defined an era. With the rise in social media, images are everywhere. It’s not enough to think that one great style will make you stand out for five years. Or even five minutes. We’re only as good as our last haircut – unless we shoot it!”
And so, POP-UP Hair Photography makes great images accessible and bang up-to-date. Desmond has linked up with Named Model Management and The Hair Desk to shoot their new faces. “It’s a win-win deal where they get a bank of amazing test shots and we get to keep pushing creative boundaries,” explains Desmond. “Because the faces are new there’s a freshness to them.”
Sasha at Named Model Management is equally enthusiastic. “Here at Named we have had the pleasure of hosting Desmond’s POP UPs several times now, always finding the experience to be greatly advantageous and thoroughly enjoyable. Des demonstrates an intuitive ability to quickly build rapport with talent through strong communication. He makes our models feel amazing and gets the most out of what they can offer in front of the camera.”
The added bonus is that the agency is given an insight into how their models perform individually, enabling them to critique and develop their careers – as well as receiving fabulous imagery for the models’ portfolios, of course. Desmond handpicks a creative team who takes care of styling and make-up and he takes the shots. “All that’s left to do is conjure up some inspiring hair and get back to the basics of what we do and love. Not over-styled, or excessively retouched, the finished images are classy that stand the test of time,” says Desmond.
It’s also a chance for hairdressers to get involved in a concept which adds mileage to their branding, and gives them a full set of images at a fraction of the cost. Christian Hefti at BHp Hairdressing in Leeds was one of the first to sign up to a shoot with POP-UP Hair Photography for Matrix. He says, “I was thinking about a photo shoot for the salon. Not for awards, just to try and get a collection of images for us. I started noticing Desmond Murray doing shoots called POP-UP and it really flicked my switch. I contacted Des and organised the shoot. We had a fantastic day, and we ended up with a super collection of images. Really usable, commercial and relevant to our salon – not pictures that scare the clients!”
No doubt Desmond has tapped into the appetite for images that don’t feel contrived or shot for a purpose. Instead, they celebrate the mastery of simply beautiful hair. And through this he has managed to engage a new audience to appreciate the raw artistry of what hairdressers are best at. Christian continues, “Des has a lovely style, and being a hairdresser knows how to encourage and get the most out of the day. All in all it was a really great day, and the POP-UP style was exactly what we were aiming for and more. Already saving for the next one!”
The future looks bright for POP-UP Hair Photography, and Desmond is clearly revelling in his renewed passion for photography. “I now have two other model agencies lining up to get on board, and hairdressers queuing up to collaborate. This feels like a revolution… And it’s about time,” he enthuses with that huge smile of his.