conley6.gif (2529 bytes)


The bearded book

Photos by Matt Haas

November 2015

Photographer Jessica Kaminski surrounded by some of her bearded subjects; clockwise, from top: Marcus Doucette, Tarik Moody, Blake French, Ryan Manske, Larry Chess and Ralph Golnick.

On Jessica: Hair by Mary Tomaszewski. Makeup by Theresa Balistreri, Clean Modern Pretty Makeup.


Itís no surprise that photographer Jessica Kaminski and producer Kate Foster, both seasoned professionals in their respective fields, chose to give back in an impressively creative way. The duo just published a fine art book, titled "MKE Beard Book," celebrating the cityís bearded locals, and a portion of every book sale will benefit No-Shave November, a nationwide initiative to raise cancer awareness and support funds.

Kaminski, a Milwaukee native whose resume includes a stint as Mís staff photographer, began photographing bearded Milwaukeeans last spring. "I noticed a series of black and white portraits on Instagram of men and their beards, and that inspired me to start a project locally," she explains. What started as a passion project quickly grew into something more, with Kaminski photographing subjects on a near-weekly basis.

"It evolved from there," says Foster, who worked alongside Kaminski to produce the book. "As we started getting more guys to participate, we thought, ĎHow can we turn this into something that has another level?í Thatís when we started looking into donating some of the proceeds to a menís health organization. Thereís a huge cultural movement going on with beards, so casting for the project has been very easy."

"Born and bred cheesehead" Larry Chess says he found out about the casting through his involvement with a local beard group, the Brew City Beard Alliance. "One of our members posted a notification saying that The Refinery (Foster and Kaminskiís photography studio) was looking for bearded gents to photograph, so I submitted my photos," he recalls. "Jessica called me a couple of days later."

"These people arenít professional models. Theyíre just regular Milwaukeeans," Kaminski emphasizes. "(The book) is all about highlighting Milwaukee and celebrating Milwaukeeís beard culture. I love the idea of being able to look at this book 10 to 20 years from now and see a piece of history."

"Itís a fun way to do what we already do. We both have story telling sides to our careers," adds Foster. "Weíre intrigued by documenting whatís going on right now and storytelling." Their desire to keep the book as authentic as possible has lent itself to some entertaining photo shoots, to say the least. Case in point? The photos Chess originally submitted were taken at the Midwest Beard Competition, where he competed dressed as a lumberjack, so Kaminski and Foster encouraged Chess to "rock the Paul Bunyan look" for his portrait. "For our shoot, we went to Juneau Park, where there is a replica of an 1822 log cabin. It was put there in the 1980s, and that was our backdrop. I had an axe in one hand and Kateís dog in the other!" laughs Chess.

"Itís this role reversal ó people donít usually have their photo taken, only at weddings. Men especially donít get their picture taken. I think thereís something really powerful about photographing a man and seeing how great he looks on his own, being himself," notes Kaminski, who says her goal for the year is to establish herself as a professional portraitist. "Giving people pride in themselves is not a small thing."

Foster spent 10 years living and working in London before returning to her hometown of Milwaukee, and she says the most rewarding aspect of the project has been reengaging with the local community. "It feels really good to be working on a project that celebrates a town I am happy to call home again," she says. "Living away from here really gave me a great appreciation for the people here and how wonderful they are."

The pair initiated a Kickstarter campaign to cover printing costs associated with the book and teamed up with local organizations, including UWMís cartography department and the Milwaukee County Historical Society, to assist in its production. Approximately 1,000 copies were printed, and Kaminski and Foster, along with the 30-plus bearded locals featured in the book, will commemorate its launch at Hotel Foster on Nov. 5. Tickets to the release party can be purchased online at Readers can also preorder a copy of "MKE Beard Book" online, and $5 from each sale will be donated to No-Shave November.

"Weíre really happy to be doing our part to raise awareness for menís health in Milwaukee, in whatever way we can," concludes Foster.

This story ran in the November 2015 issue of: