Matthew Rainwaters was born and raised in the San Fernando Valley, which is the part of Los Angeles nobody likes to talk about. He did a lot of skateboarding when he was younger, broke a lot of bones, and spent hours filming his friends; making skate videos eventually brought him to still photography. Once a veggie patty broke his nose in an epic food fight: in total he has broken 23 bones, spent more than a year on crutches, and has a metal plate holding the left side of his face together. He lived abroad for a very brief time and returned to California to work in a special effects studio that made monster movies. He graduated photo school at 23 and started teaching high school in Los Angeles a year later. He now lives in Austin and takes pictures for a living.
How did this project, Beardfolio, come about?
‘The beard project started a little over four years ago when I first moved to Austin. I met an art director at the studio one day with a burly beard and he was talking about shaving it off after winning a local contest. I knew the next World beard and Mustache championships was about two years away so I convinced him into growing it out and competing while I would photograph the whole thing’.
Where were these portraits taken and over what time period?
‘We traveled to Anchorage in May of ’09 and I photographed everyone as they were done competing. Everything was shot in one day but took months to edit through. I probably have about 85 portraits that I really think are great and maybe an additional 200 that are still sitting unretouched on my hard drive’.
Many of your subjects are members of the Austin Facial Hair Club. Does Austin have more facial hair aficionados than other cities or is this simply a growing trend?
‘There are seven guys from Austin published in the book but the Austin Facial Hair Club has definitely grown since I shot this. It’s definitely a growing trend especially with the help of shows like Whisker Wars documenting the competitive aspects of facial hair growth. As far as Austin being a hub for facial hair aficionados it’s hard to say… there are a lot of great beards here but there were a lot of serious competitors from all over Alaska, the Germans have some of the more elaborate beards I’ve seen, and the mustaches coming out of LA are pretty award winning’.
The book signing and release party for ‘Beard’ is this week in Austin. How did Chronicle Books come to publish this work?
‘I was introduced to Chronicle through a few friends that were designing a book for them. I was given an email address of one of the editors so I sent a few samples and introduced myself. That got the ball rolling and a few years later I feel like the project is officially complete with the publishing of BEARD’.
We are giving away five copies of Matthew Rainwaters’ book of portraits from the World Beard and Moustache Championships. Details here.