Barbershops of America: Then and Now - photographs and text by Rob Hammer, summer 2023

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Barbershops of America: Then and Now - photographs and text by Rob Hammer, summer 2023
Rob Hammer, Pugslys SideShow Barbershop, Kingston, New York.

SAN DIEGO, CA.- For seven years and over 200,000 miles, photographer Rob Hammer and his dog Mojo traveled throughout all 50 states and photographed both long-standing older shops and their barbers, as well as up and coming new stores and the younger generation building on the traditional trade. Barbershops of America: Then and Now provides a glimpse into the people and physical spaces that foster community, storytelling, and connection.

Originally published in 2018, this re-release emphasizes that these images preserve in many cases the memories of shops that did not survive the impacts of Covid, or the emergence of the corporate chain store barbershop since Hammer began the project in 2012. This loss left a civic deficit that has impacted local small-town economies, as well as the intrinsic value that long-standing community gathering spaces provide.

Hammer's photographs show both people within the barbershop spaces, as well as empty shop interiors, and both tell the very human story of these places. Hammer's composition captures the objects within the shops, the wear and tear, the details, all of which resonate to shed light on the role these places serve to the people who sit in the chairs and chat and laugh and listen. In his essay for the book Hammer highlights what drew him to particular shops. "Everything in here is what I consider to be a real barbershop. You see, shops—real shops, that is—are just like people, in that they have a soul. That’s why a photograph of an empty shop is just as effective as one with every chair filled. You can just feel what’s happened in there."

The book's layout is indicative of Hammer's consideration of how the project evolved over the many years he was immersed in traveling and documenting. The first part is entitled, "Old School," and includes photographs of traditional barber shops that in some cases have been providing this service for multiple decades. Their decor and furniture reflect this continual use and the passage of time, and are most often filled with older gentlemen, some of whom may have been cutting hair or getting their haircut at these places for 50 years.

The next section is entitled, "Next Generation" and it shows younger barbers inside slicker barbershops with newer interior spaces and a sense of intentional design in the mood created within the shops, some with a counterculture vibe of tattooed barbers and skateboard decor. The atmosphere is still just as community-driven, the people in the photographs are laughing and talking and connecting. The essence is the same.

In his essay Hammer also reflects on the generational theme running through it, noting, "This project started out of my love for barbershops and the desire to photograph the old timers before they were all gone, but that focus shifted after being introduced to some of the “next generation.” So this book is very much about barbering’s disappearing past and the stark contrast of its now-vibrant future."

Quotes from the barbers and customers are interspersed throughout and provide a personal narrative of observations from within the ever-changing field, as do the black and white portraits of the barbers themselves presented near the end of the book. The images themselves are captioned with the barbershop name, and city and state where located. Some pages present singular images, and others are filled with composites of multiples.

Shop owner and a figurehead in the national barber education community, Mark-Jason Solofa wrote a personal narrative for the book's foreword. He speaks to the very intrinsic community factors he observed and felt in his own experiences as driving his decision to change careers and become a barber. While contemplating enrolling in barber college he notes the joy as well as "...the confidence I felt after, and the sense of fellowship and community that came with sitting among like-minded men who had come together in one room to share advice, stories, and laughter. I signed up for barber college within the week…"

Solofa points out that barbershops are not exclusive and in this way function even more purely as welcoming and safe gathering spaces, not contingent on membership or initiation or separation through social class, religion, or ethnicity. He writes, "In a world that has always had so much division, this book will serve as a constant reminder that the men of today (and those of generations before us) will always have a place of community to call their own, and a special place to call their home away from home. "

A unique addition to this project is the additional merchandising reinforcing the themes presented in the book. Hammer's website has combination packages that include book and fine art print, and there are also items like a notebook with imagery from the project, pint glasses with a barber chair etching, and a skateboard which references that many of the newer generation of barbers are also connected to the skateboarding world. The book and other merchandise is being sold directly through Rob Hammer’s website.

Rob Hammer is a commercial photographer based in San Diego, California. He is best known for his dramatic style of shooting professional athletes and unique way of documenting adventure. Barbershops of America has been featured on CBS, The Guardian, Reader’s Digest, Chicago Tribune, San Diego Union Tribune, Barber Evo Magazine, among other publications.

Mark-Jason Solofa is owner of Mark-Jason Solofa Grooming in Berkeley, California. He is a licensed Barber, Cosmetologist, and Certified Barber Instructor. He is considered one of the industry’s leading authorities on customer service and building customer experiences in the barbershop.

Book Details:

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