The Barbershop Book
All things change except barbers, the ways of barbers, and the surroundings of barbers. These never change. —Mark Twain
Jay Seldin gets it. His new tome, The Barbershop Book, is a sort of No Reservations-style look at barbershops in some of the most remote corners of India, China, Vietnam, Myanmar, Laos, Haiti and Cuba. Seldin, an “environmental portrait photographer,” steps out of the way and lets the grooming rituals do the talking. The Barbershop Book is a fascinating glimpse into one of man’s oldest and most common rituals: a haircut and shave at the local barbershop—some of which boast nothing more than a wooden plank, a semi-sharp blade and a couple of chickens frolicking about.
We recently had the pleasure of speaking with Mr. Seldin about The Barbershop Book…
Kempt: So, how did the idea come about to document third-world barbershops?
Seldin: Over the past 10 years, my travels have brought me to some incredibly remote locations and I started noticing the most common ritual was getting a haircut and shave. Men have been doing this for thousands of years and, regardless of the culture, the local barbershop is a conduit for news near and far, and oral history that’s passed along to the man sitting in the barber chair. In that sense, the barber in remote villages of third-world countries is very similar to the one at local barbershops here in the US. I was also fascinated by some of the strange and improvisational techniques that world barbers were doing.
Kempt: Like this large metal spear which appears to be headed into this man’s eye socket?
Seldin: Yikes! This was in Vietnam. I came upon a barber using sharp metal tools to clean out a client’s eye gunk and earwax. Not your typical day at the barber here in the states.
Kempt: What’s the most remote barbershop you visited?
Seldin: That’s a tough one. I remember visiting a small village in Laos off the Mekong River. The only way to get there was by boat. This barbershop didn’t even have an enclosed area. It was literally outside in the jungle where the chickens were running freely about. Although the barber had jerry-rigged electricity from a small shack about 50 feet away to run his hair clippers.
The Barbershop Book is available for purchase at The Blurb Bookstore.
All images used with permission, © Jay Seldin, 2011
- — C. Brian Smith