• Photographer Michelle Marshall has captured the portraits of black and mixed race people with red hair (Instagram)Source: Instagram
There's always beauty in diversity.
Bianca Soldani

23 Aug 2016 - 12:36 PM  UPDATED 23 Aug 2016 - 12:37 PM

Red hair is a distinctive trait but contrary to popular belief, it’s also a diverse one.

Fiery locks, freckles and fair skin is often a result of a gene mutation in the melanocortin 1 receptor or MC1R, and is seen in about one to two per cent of the global population.

It occurs when both parents carry the receptive gene, even if they don't have red hair themselves, and is historically most common in climates where there is little harmful sun exposure. In Ireland and Scotland, about 35 per cent of people carry the gene and roughly 10 per cent have red hair, leading to the trait often being associated with Celtic origins. 

However, a photo series by French-born and London-based photographer Michelle Marshall, focuses on a more diverse picture of red hair among black and mixed race people.

In her series, Ms Marshall says she wants “to stir the perception that most of us have of a 'ginger' person as a white Caucasian individual potentially of Celtic descent.”

Indeed, her photos feature the portraits of people of varying ages and from different backgrounds.

She writes on her website, “Whilst there seems to be a strong Irish/Scottish connection to the MCR1 gene in the occurrence of red hair, does being ginger still only means being Scottish, Irish, Welsh or even a white Caucasian individual?

“As we struggle with issues of immigration, discrimination and racial prejudice, Mother Nature, meanwhile, follows its own course, embracing society’s plurality and, in the process, shaking up our perceptions about origins, ethnicity and identity.”

In a first person piece written for Vice, Natasha Culzac, a model in the series, explains that for her, having such a unique look hasn't always been easy.

"Growing up tall, mixed-raced, with thick, frizzy ginger hair, in a predominantly white, working-class seaside town was not the ticket," she says.

"At 13 years old I was buying skin whitening cream from Boots to pulverize the freckles and at 14, during my Slipknot phase at the turn of the millennium, was violently straightening my newly-dyed black hair. Now, though, I couldn't care less and relish being unique."

People with red hair are historically rare in Africa where the fair skin associated with the gene was a disadvantage in the sunny climate, particularly at times when people spent much of their time out of doors.

Stanford University geneticist Barry Starr, tells Vice, "Red hair carriers in the Caribbean and Africa are for the most part due to migration or gene flow."

Interestingly, red hair can also be a result of a type of albinism named rufous oculocutaneous albinism, which occurs when the body doesn't produce a certain type of melanin. The condition was originally found in Africa but has since been identified among people of Asian, Indian and Northern European descent.