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Barbershops of America – Then and Now

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A few years ago I wrote an article about a book about barbershops, Barbershops Of America.  The book’s author, Rob Hammer, has published a follow-up, “Barbershops of America – Then and Now.”  I got a sample of the book and also talked with Rob about it via email.

“Barbershops of America – Then and Now” is a 180 page coffee table book with images of traditional barbershop from all 50 states of the USA made by Rob Hammer over a period of 5+ years.  I asked Rob to compare and contrast the new book with the first one.

How many barbershops did you visit for the new book? (How many were re-visits of shops from the first book?)

Hard to say, but I’d guess that over the 5+ years i’ve been working on this that I have visited about 1000+/- shops. Only a fraction of that number did I actually photograph though. Was pretty specific with what I was looking for. Almost none of them were re-visits from the old book as I wanted to create new content from different shops.

What differences did you note between the time you wrote the first book and the second?

Huge difference. When I was working on the first book it seemed like this huge barber boom or whatever you want to call it, had not fully happened yet. Nowadays there is a barbershop on every corner. And it’s a great thing that the industry is thriving, but most of the new shops are soulless places filled with barbers that don’t really have a connection to the real traditions. They just see it as this new sexy “job” that is all over Instagram. The flip side of that is all the beautiful shops that have opened with barbers who really love the tradition and take things very seriously. Makes me really happy to meet those barbers.

Why are there pictures of barbershop toilets in the book?

Haha. Not sure I ever really thought about it, but suppose it’s just because some of the shop bathrooms are so interesting. For the most part, barbershop bathrooms are a place that nobody ever thinks about, but I realized a long time ago that a lot of them are very photogenic, in an odd way. However you think about them, they certainly don’t look like your bathroom at home.

[Note from Mantic59: there’s at least one image in the book that might be considered Not Safe For Work (NSFW).]

What is unique about barbershops in the US?

Everything. This is something I’ve talked about since the beginning. Barbershops are almost always a product of their environment. Meaning that they are indicative of the people who started them and the people that frequent them. A shop in southern California will probably be filled with skateboards or surfboards. Whereas a shop in Kansas or Montana will probably have hunting trophies all over the walls.

Barbershops can be a very unique way to learn about where you are in the country. America is a huge and diverse place and that’s something you see in all the shops.

From your unique perspective, what should a new barber need to know?

I’m not a barber, so I’m not the gate keeper or the guy who says what’s right or wrong. That’s not my place. I’m just a guy with an opinion that the old school way of doing things is the right way. Barbering has very rich traditions that date back a long time. It’s a very humble profession, but something to be very proud of. It seems to me that a lot of barbers today think they are doing their customers a favor by letting them sit in their chair. That’s never the case. A barber is nothing without his customers. They should always be grateful for every person that continues walking through their door. And really, that goes for any profession. Mine included. It’s not about looking like a rock star or how many Instagram followers you have. Be good at what you do and be good to people.

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