THE BARBER OFF FAIRFAX
Los Angeles, USA 2018
About a month ago when I was working out of our studio in Los Angeles, I was in need of a serious haircut. It was a baking hot day and in the interests of time, I thought I could combine it with a supply trip to Samy’s Camera in West Hollywood, which is located on Fairfax. Google quickly threw out a good number of suggestions as to who could undertake the 20 minutes of perfunctory scissor work - which was no real surprise as Fairfax is the embodiment of contemporary hipster culture and barbers are very “now”. I found myself being directed to an established called “The Proper Barbershop” five minutes from Samy’s.
Google has never done me such a big favour. As soon as I arrived, I realised that I had been directed to a jewel of a location. The shop was a museum to LA popular culture from the last 40 years - almost no wall space had been spared - the 1920’s barber chairs from Chicago were surrounded by a visual palette as strong as I had seen in any room for some time. The commercial proposition of dudes cutting the hair of people that aspire to be dudes has legs in 2018 and here in front of me - by pure chance - was a category killer barber.
The chairs were all full and they had no room for me - indeed, they are full every day and so it become clear that The Proper Barbershop
is a West Hollywood institution. Just like the leading restaurants on Melrose a mile to the west, walk in customers are almost always turned away.
The destination is hard core - half empty whisky and tequila bottles fight for space with hair product (and generally win that battle). Meanwhile, most of the stylists are covered from the head down in tattoos, whilst the loo is decorated exclusively in heterosexual porn photos. One of the prominent artists in the shots is indeed the wife of the senior stylist - something good customers find out. The barber is something of a monument to the intense liberalism that is integral to the West Hollywood way of life. It may only be 20 minutes from Beverly Hills, but this part of LA, dances to a very different beat.
I came home with no change to my middle-aged hair, but the seeds of an idea that evolved with every glass of scotch that night. There was a chance, if I could persuade Vinnie, the owner, to give me access, to capture a powerful staged image of this authentic and symbolic location, but it would need a great deal of planning for me not to let the location down. Earlier this year, I took the shot “The Usual Suspects” in a bar in Montana, and the success of the image fuelled my creative courage. The two venues shared similarities not just in the shape and low lighting of the room, but also in that they were both home to people that lend themselves to stylisation.
The next day, I took my production team and my daughter - Jade - to the location (although I spared her a tour of the loo). They all immediately recognised the opportunity and I knew then I had no choice but to cancel existing plans to focus on this project. That’s the way this gig goes, I guess. It’s like a dog with a bone - you see something that is visually transcending and there is an urge to act immediately - not to wait six weeks or even six months. I am not sure whether spontaneity is always a good thing, but when it happens, it tends to be a very powerful emotion.
Happily, Vinnie was keen to collaborate - although it was clear that we would have to close the barbers down for a day and that this would not be cheap as his stylists can each take over $600 a day.
I knew I needed characters in the image that would highlight the vibrant culture of LA and the hipster vibe of Fairfax. The Compton Cowboys were a starting point - and I knew from the huge success of the 2017 Guinness advert, that they could work with the camera. I thought a 1970’s roller blading disco girl was a great additive especially if I could find another Boogie Nights type character to endorse that angle. Then I just wanted some bad ass characters and finally - of course - a gay cop.
The best image from that day is a cracker. From a technical perspective, it was the toughest day’s photography all year - there was so little light coming into the shop and I didn't want to destroy the sense of place by using too much LED panel lighting. We were working on long shutter speeds and wide-open apertures. Getting that crowd and the horse to stay still was no easy task.
What am I trying to say with the image? Nothing - it’s just the “Barber off Fairfax”.
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