The Image: Miisha Ayana, "The Newcomer"
When I first began photographing barbershops in D.C (where I lived at the time), my primary focus was to make images that conveyed the culture and vibe created within each space. While the two barbershops I documented had similarities such as the familiar smell of hair grease and disinfectant, they were distinctively different. For instance, Eddie's Hair Creations on California Street is thoroughly Afrocentric; with hair robes scribed in Egyptian hieroglyphics and Reggae music merchandise located in the corner next to the toaster oven. Whereas the other shop, Carl's on P Street, is more sports influenced; focused on supporting D.C.'s legendary football team, the Redskins (Carl's has an alter proudly displayed in the shop for all to worship).
Portraits are a big part of the project because they highlight the diversity of each shop's clientele and profile the barber's personal style.
This portrait was taken at Eddie's on the shops' busiest day: Saturday. This is the day most children come in to get their weekly touch-ups; this young gentleman came in with his older brother and grandpa. When I saw the two youngsters, I knew I wanted to take a portrait of them but because of their age, was not sure if I should ask the boys or the grandfather for permission. Usually, I spark up a conversation with the person(s) I photograph to get a feel of their character and to allow them to relax a little. Unfortunately for me, these two boys weren't interested in talking to some random woman with a camera wrapped around her neck and ignored me. I then began speaking with the grandfather who told me their names and said I could photograph them if I wanted to. By this time, both boys were getting their hair trimmed and were lost in a world of their own. I walked over to the youngest of the siblings, focused my lens, positioned myself and called his name to get his attention. To my surprise, instead of giving me the blank expression of wonderment one usually has when a stranger calls their name, I received an intense stare back; a serious look with a ting of annoyance as if to say I've taken up too much of his time with this picture taking business. Although I do not know the subject personally, I believe this portrait speaks of the boy's personality and mature nature. With me, he was quiet and stoic however lurking underneath the surface; this portrait reveals a fierce spirit.
In hindsight, I'm left to wonder what the answer would have been if I had asked him for permission to take the portrait and how the look on his face would have varied.
- Miisha Ayana
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