Stories

Streets of Taipei

Photographer Jesse Laitinen and hair stylist Pablo Kuemin travelled to Taiwan and armed with a backpack filled with 40 wigs, captured the people on the streets of Taipei.

Photography
JESSE LAITINEN
Hair
PABLO KUEMIN

“I go regularly to Taiwan for work and have made lots of local friends there” Pablo says. “I’ve gotten to know the community and their open spirits. Taipei is a really fun city and we wanted to show that to the world.” You can see this open spirit, and the sense of joy in Jesse’s pictures. Characters like Siena the “Pimp Queen of Taipei”, who shares a pink wig in these pictures with a huge teddy bear. “She owns the most important area of the red light district. She’s a friend of a makeup artist we know in Taipei, which is how we met her and she was a totally crazy and amazing woman. She took us to one of her brothels to shoot her there and we were not allowed to leave until we were drunk from gin and tonics, playing Jenga for three hours. In the middle of a Jenga game she suddenly came over to me and told me she wanted to give us a free shampooing.”

Not sure exactly what to expect Jesse and Pablo were ushered to the hair salon across the street, also owned by Siena. “This girl gave me the best shampoo massage I have had in my whole life. Shampoo Service in Taiwan is very popular and is a real celebration. Both of us got a 30 min shampoo head massage and had a good laugh. Nobody should miss this place and opportunity. I went back the next day with clean hair for another session!”

Pablo started working with hair 10 years ago in Switzerland. “As I’m Swiss I hate if people have to wait for me [laughter] so I can spend hours prepping 10-20 wigs and then on set they only take me about 5-10 minutes to get on the head and ready to shoot. I always loved crafts and could spend hours building stuff at home. To be able to create something is what makes it exciting for me. Also, I’m a big fan of fantasy and that inspires my work a lot… a wig has the fantastic ability to completely change people in an instant.” For Streets of Taipei there was no planning, just a backpack stuffed with wigs still clinging to the shapes they had previously been styled into. “I tried to grab the wigs blindly and see if it worked.”

Good old Oskar wrote “Man is least himself when he talks in his own person. Give him a mask, and he will tell you the truth.” I ask Pablo if he thinks Wilde’s maxim can be extended to wigs. “I think wigs are more than that, wigs help people emotionally… to forget about their pain for a while, they make people feel confident to leave the house again. That’s what I see in my charity work. They can transform people. They have power and status – look at the Baroque. In ancient Egypt they were used for hygiene reasons.” For years Pablo has worked with Haar Vital a wig company specialising in high quality medial wigs. “For a couple of years I cut wigs for cancer and alopecia clients for free. Then the company asked me if they could sponsor me with wigs for editorials, and I started to design wigs for their fashion and film range HV-WIGS.” Pablo is currently Art Director of Haar Vital.

Top of page: This is a teacher and one of his students who was graduating on the day we were shooting. Left: Yi-Lun, a Model we spotted near a busy underground station. Right: Huang, Cheng-Jie who was shy but said yes to this picture without hesitating
Zhang, Qing-Chou, photographed on Mothers Day as her family cheered her on
Left: He got our attention with his deep voice and his own long black wig, which I swapped for a choppy short one. Middle: This is one of the girls from Siena’s Shampoo Salon. Right: This girl gave me the best shampoo massage I have had in my whole life
Left: This girl is a young photography student and was interested in our project, so she came and asked if she can be a part of it. Right: This men spends his days walking around the city and talking to strangers to meet new people; we spotted him walking to different people to start a conversation. He said he was enjoying the company and made the conclusion that you find the best conversations in the most spontaneous moments
Siena the Pimp Queen of Taipei. She owns the most important area of the red light district

A personal project by photographer Jesse Laitinen and hair stylist Pablo Kuemin
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