A cut above the rest in Carlow
A hairdresser’s local photo shoot that was meant to be a team building exercise led to the formation the artistically-driven and hugely successful Pure Thinking Community Group
FOUR years ago Carlow-based hairdresser Connie Byrne Hyland decided to do a photo shoot involving clients and the community as a team building exercise for her employees.
It was so successful it led to the formation of a separate artistically-driven group – Pure Thinking Community Group – which has won the ¤5,000 Dublin Airport Authority (DAA) Arts Award this year in the Allianz Business to Arts Awards. That first photo shoot, entitled 'The Colony', happened in a pheasant colony outside Carlow town and its theme aimed to address the recession and show how people can look beautiful without having to spend a fortune. The models were people from the town and Byrne Hyland's team did the styling.
"Fashion editor of Life magazine Constance Harris picked up on what we did and thought it was a positive and upbeat approach to the recession," she says. "When it was so successful, we wanted to carry on doing photo collections using specific themes and asked people from the community to be involved to elaborate on particular stories." The second shoot involved older people and was called 'Beauty and Wisdom of Age'. "We thought it would be interesting to go back to Druidic times and have the shoot in Dublin, with the idea that these people had come from the past and wondered what Ireland had come to," continues Byrne Hyland. Aiming to reflect the different nationalities now living in Carlow, the third initiative was called 'Mixed and Mumbled' and followed the same template as the previous two – 15 photos and workshops around the theme.
In September, the group presented an exhibition of its three years' work called 'Mixed Colony of Beauty' at VISUAL: Centre for Contemporary Art and George Bernard Shaw Theatre in Carlow. It started with team building workshops by local music facilitator Eddie Sheehan and ended with multiple location shoots by Polish photographer Agata Stoinska. The whole process was captured, along with a series of individual interviews in two 10-minute films by Marc-Ivan O'Gorman. "The Pure Thinking Community Group's mission statement is to create an awareness of those who live around us. We've already started on our fourth initiative – 'The Wall R Us (Is it a wall or is it us)' project. This will be a 26 ft piece of art outside the Castle Tavern pub on Castle Street, which aims to show that pubs are not just about drink, but people, friendship, comfort and music," says Byrne Hyland.
In July, the group asked as many people as they could to fill out specially designed beer mats asking questions about a story, favourite song or person that reminded them of the pub. This will be amalgamated into a work of art. "Carlow Local Authorities have funded half of this project and we have planning permission for the piece to be permanent. It will open on 30 September." Byrne Hyland says she didn't set out to make her business stronger through this process but this has happened organically.
"It allowed the seven girls [the staff ] to be educated on a personal level as well as technically. They are hugely creative but to be the best you can be, I think you need to give something back to the community, which earns a business respect in a town." The judges have stipulated that the €5,000 bursary from Dublin Airport Authority should be used by Pure Thinking Community Group to further their partnership with Connie Byrne Hyland Hairdressing and create new work.