GinGist Simply Red
They are teased, bullied - and heading for extinction.
Ginge, Ginger Nut, Ginger Minger, Carrot Top, Duracell, Period Head, Ginger Bollocks, Ginger Pubes, You Lanky String Of Ginger Piss. Just a few of the names those in Jenny Wicks' pictures have been called.
Jenny Wicks Root Ginger: A Study Of Red Hair Idea Generation Gallery, London E2 7JB Starts 17 February Until 1 March ideageneration.co.uk Why do so many seemingly decent people - the type who would hate to be considered prejudiced - think gingism is perfectly acceptable?
I should know. I've got previous. In my time I have been a revolting gingist. My daughter Alix was born 17 years ago with a fine carrot topping. Over time, she developed into a fully-fledged ginger. Ginger is one of the first words she learned. Why? Because I called her my little ginge, my ginger darling - on a good day.
At other times, I went the ginger with two hard Gs route. What made me think I had the right? Because I was her father, because I thought I was being funny, because I loved her? Whatever, there was no excuse. When we met other gingers, I'd smugly announce, "Look, one of yours!" and expect the both of them to crack up at my sparkling wit. Thoughtless bastard.
Worst of all, I travelled the road euphemistic. Despite my "banter", I told Alix her hair was copper, Titian, russet - anything but ginger.
There have been worse offenders than me. In 15th-century Germany, redheads were seen as witches - 45,000 were tortured and murdered. Meanwhile, Egyptians burned gingers alive, and the Greeks reckoned they turned into vampires when they died.
At least in art gingers have often been given their due - for the 19th-century pre-Raphaelites, the only true beauty was a ginger beauty. Gingers were transcendent, evoking lust, wealth, godliness, the whole shebang in the one luminous barnet. How Rossetti would have loved to paint the beautiful sisters here.
And yet, turn your attention to Michelangelo and you'll find another shameless gingist at work - his Temptation in the Sistine Chapel shows a ginger Satan encouraging Adam to take a bite of that apple.
Today, red hair is again desirable, thanks partly to supermodels Karen Elson and Lily Cole. At the same time there are fears that gingers may be extinct by 2060 because only 2% of the world's population are gingers, and that number is shrinking. There are campaigns to save the ginger, and to encourage gingers to replicate themselves (both parents have to carry the ginger gene to have a chance of producing a ginger child). Yet we continue to hear of people terrorised for their hair colour. The bullies range from schoolkids to corporate giants. In 2000, an npower advert showed a ginger family under the banner "There are some things in life you can't choose". Using the same slogan, another ad showed a red-haired man looking down his pants dejectedly. When people complained about the ad, they were told it was humorous.
Last year, newspapers reported a family fleeing from their home in Newcastle after being the victims of extreme gingism. Virtually all those photographed by Wicks say they've been bullied or harassed because of their hair; many believe that in a politically correct world this seems like the last acceptable ism. "The G word is an anagram of the N word," says Richard Tyrone Jones. At primary school, he was defined by his hair colour from day one. He was shown his peg, and because some of the children couldn't yet read, they were denoted by pictures - his was a flame-haired gingerbread man running away (from life, from gingerdom?). He still looks traumatised today.
"I was walking into town to get a bus to work," Andy Inglis says, "strolling along minding my own business when a white van came around the corner with a few blokes in the front seat. One lent out of the window and shouted, 'Ginger!' and threw a nearly full McDonald's strawberry milkshake at me which hit my upper body and exploded over my work shirt, tie and trousers! They drove off laughing."
In a short film Wicks has made, one girl, with a lovely smile, tells an all-too-common tale: being shouted at in the street by a total stranger, "'Oi, ginge,' as if they are the first person to notice it." She creases into laughter and raises a ginger eyebrow. "It's like, no way, I didn't know, nobody told me, thanks for letting me know - you know what I mean?"