Why Barbershops?

by Rob Hammer


Growing up, I developed an early appreciation for everything involving barbershops. The look, the smell, and the general attitude coming out of them were great. Then as I got older and traveled more, I realized that a real barbershop became harder and harder to find. America is filled with Super Cuts, Fantastic Sams, and countless salons claiming to be barbershops.

In September 2011, I began photographing old shops that I found around Southern California. It was just a fun personal project, but developed into much more then that as time went on.  During a trip to the east coast, I was photographing shops in NYC, and found an amazing shop in Spanish Harlem. An Italian guy who immigrated here almost 60 years ago owned it. At the time I visited his shop, he had been there for 52 years. It was a great place, covered in history. Displaying as much character as his old Italian face.  And in one week, his landlord would kick him out. Making room for a Chinese take-out restaurant, whose owners were willing to pay much more in rent. He was a visible wreck about the whole thing. I could see that his shop was literally his entire life, and there was nothing he could do to stop them from taking it.

The Experience

My experience that day in Spanish Harlem changed my whole perspective on this project. It became clear to me how amazing these old shops are, and evident how quickly they were disappearing. It was then that I decided to take this project up a notch, documenting real shops in all of the lower 48 states of the U.S. Knowing it would be a costly venture; I decided to try Kickstarter (an online forum where artists and entrepreneurs showcase their projects and allow people to pledge funding to support their goal(s)). Overcome with excitement, I did a very poor job with planning and executing the whole campaign, which made it a total failure. However, that failure only pushed me further, making me realize how important the project was. It was then that I decided to fund the project on my own and expand the scope to include all 50 states. So for the next two and half years, I drove around the U.S. searching for truly authentic barbershops. Staying off the highways and scouring small towns, led me to some real American gems. Shops with countless years of history, and décor as diverse as the people and places that make up our country.

Not only was this journey some of the best times of my life, it was a huge learning experience--giving me a new appreciation for our country, and it’s diversity. Most of all, it reassured my theory that real barbershops are an important piece of American history, that will soon be gone, and deserve to be documented. Over the 2.5 years, I traveled roughly 45,000 miles and visited over 600 shops. With only a handful of those shops inspiring me to take my cameras out.




States and Barbershops Visited

Buy Barbershops of America

 13in. x 10in. hard cover coffee table book

120 Pages with hundreds of photos from over 70 barbershops in all 50 States.