The Many Bearded Milwaukeeans
These men are the original lumberjacks, and they’re posing for award-winning portraitist Jessica Kaminski. She’s on a mission not only to celebrate beard culture, but to raise awareness for men’s health by donating to cancer research. For Polarr, Emily von Hoffmann finds out more.
Emily: When did you become interested in male subjects and their plumage?
Jessica: Well, as a portraitist I think I’ve always been interested in the male esthetic. Timing wise though, I’d say that in recent years as I began to include more male portraiture in my work, this movement of ‘beard culture’ was blowing up at the same time so it was a natural fit for me.
E: You self-identify as a proponent of ‘beard culture,’ which seems to be something that far transcends the simple possession of a beard. Can you explain what beard culture is, and how Milwaukee men became its icons?
J: Great question! I think that this issue of ‘beard culture’ is a really hot topic right now, and that there are a lot of different voices weighing in. Men in the 70's for example, we can look back and can sort of see what that was about in a broader societal context of rebellion and freedom. So that begs the question, why are beards back in such a big way right now?
I can say from personal experience in meeting so many beadsman over the past year that whatever the reason, the culture is broad and thriving. We’ve met men who have had their beard since the 70's and men who are just really into the fashion/cultural moment beards are having right now. I’m interested to see what our future selves will say about this but from my experience ‘beard culture’ right now is about camaraderie, style, fun, and hey, people love em!
Milwaukee Men are the true beard icons, for sure! We are a blue-collar town full of breweries, motorcycles, and music festivals, it’s a perfect fit! Plus it’s freezing here a good part of the year, so a little facial protection never hurt anybody.
E: You plan to donate $5 from every book sale to charities focused on cancer prevention, research, and education. Is there a men’s health crisis in Milwaukee we should know about?
J: I don’t have any specific stats for you, but I will say that my producer and I both had men close to us suffer from cancer and cancer-related illnesses as we were putting this book together. I think it’s a shame that in a lot of cases men can be hesitant to go to the doctor until things are pretty far along. So we wanted to highlight the cause since we had the opportunity to do so.
Dear male readers, go get checked out!
E: Do you feel that the bearded men of Milwaukee are of the lumbersexual variety, or closer to the original species of lumberjack?
J: This question is hilarious! Um, I think we have a good mix, but, let me put on my best David Attenborough voice…the prevalent varietal in my experience, would be closer akin to the lumberjack species.
E: Do you imagine the audience for the book will be others who appreciate a good beard on their romantic partners, or more for dudes looking to perfect their beard game/indulge in beard envy?
J: Hmmmm… Both! And more! I think this book will appeal to ladies and gents who love beards. Also, art-lovers, photography buffs, historians, sociologists, grandmothers. I don’t know why I added that last one, but I stand by it. Buy this book for your grandma.
E: You considered each man’s individual experience while crafting their portrait. Can you share one or two of your favorite stories?
J: Of course! One of my favorites was when a man told us that he was in the military for 14 years and the day he got out, he stopped shaving. (Now he is one of Milwaukee’s favorite DJ’s!)
Another man has had his beard his entire life and has adult children who have never seen him without it. His beard is completely a part of his identity and his look. He runs a salvage yard and is a total badass (with a heart of gold. And a necklace of gold, rings of gold, and boots…shiny black boots.)
E: Do you think you’ve exhausted this subject matter for portraiture, or do you think your future work might be related?
J: I certainly don’t think I’ve exhausted the subject matter. Portraiture is an art form like any other and that means there is always more to explore, and I think I’ll always have a love for bearded men, so who knows? Stay tuned!