Street photography is such a gift. You can do it any time and anywhere. Literally. No need to worry about call times, schedules, pre-lighting, or talent arrival. Don’t get me wrong, I love all of that, but this is the perfect balance. Almost meditative. The perfect thing to do in the middle of a long edit day, killing time before a meeting, or for an hour on vacation. So much fun. Most of these were done in various parts of Southern California, but there are also a few from a recent rip up to Portland, OR.
Golden Crown Barbershop is located in Laguna Nigel, CA and it’s fearless leader; Cory Danger is the subject of today’s Q&A. Over the years I’ve had a few interactions with Mr. Danger (who looks quite royal in the first image below), and if I was forced to use one word to describe him it would have to be jolly. He always seems to have a smile on his face. There is even something happy about the way he walks, which all makes sense after hearing what he had to say. I’m a huge fan of his answers because they really come from him and they are all very positive as well as informative. A lot of people are afraid to be outwardly honest and positive in settings such as a barbershop, so this stuff is cool to hear.
You can follow Mr. Danger on Instagram @goldencrowncory and the shop at @goldencrownbarbershop. Or at their website www.goldencrownbarbershop.com.
“I try and give my guys a strong sense of self worth and ask them to conduct themselves appropriately. It’s very much a mutual respect.”
1) Where are you from and what did you do before becoming a barber?
I live in South Orange County California. Been here most my life. Before I was a barber I bounced around jobs. I’ve always worked since I was about 13. My mom started her insurance business in our home and I was her shipping department. I remember when I was 15 I asked for a phone in my room and the next day there was a fax machine and a box of fax paper rolls. I had to deliver her faxes whenever they came in and couldn’t use the phone during business hours. So it was all mine after 5 and weekends!
How do you think that experience translated into what you do now?
Its created a priceless value on work. It doesn’t matter how small or large the work load is I do something everyday. It’s like a steam powered engine, the fire must always be burning to keep the train moving.
2) Your shop(s) have a unique feel. Can you talk about the thought process of building them and why/how you run them the way you do?
I worked in a few different shops before opening my own, 5 to be exact. I built the stations with every comfort I ever wanted. I believe today it’s known as ergonomic. The counter is 42” high so I don’t have to bend to get my tools. Each station has a sink, lather machine, paper towels, trash can, register, air hose and plenty of power. We share a hot towel cabi. That was the center of my universe, the rest is just to look cool. More for the customers to have something to look at then me. As far as the way I run my shops I consciously made the decision to take everything I didn’t like about people I worked for and do the opposite. I also put a lot of value on a barber being an independent contractor. I try and give my guys a strong sense of self worth and ask them to conduct themselves appropriately. It’s very much a mutual respect.
3) As the owner of 2 (soon to be 3) shops, you’re the “boss” of a lot of barbers. Can you talk about what that’s like and how you handle all the different personalities while still keeping the culture the way you want it to be?
I lean heavy on that independent contractor ideal that I mentioned. I have a set of standards I expect and within those parameters you’re free to be whoever you want. My crew has helped me develop a very good system of self regulating. Being a walk in only shop if one barber isn’t in sync with the rest it can damage the whole operation. I’ve got a couple of guys that are managers and do a good job putting out fires before they catch my attention. I hate to be cliché saying we’re a family but we are a very bonded group of guys and our loyalty to the shop is greater then an individual. I’m only the “Boss” when I absolutely have to be.
4) What is the thing that sticks out to you that separates good barbers from great barbers?
Customer service. We are in the service industry and that should be the first thing every barber learns. Leave your shit at the door, it’s all about the person in the chair, not you.
5) What’s going through your head as you’re about to open the 3rd shop?
Pure excitement. Each time I open a shop I leave the previous one and work full time at the new one. I get to experience being a new shop owner again while simultaneously being a seasoned shop owner.
What are the biggest roadblocks or hassles with opening a new shop?
At this moment it’s the city and permits. Every city has different rules and regs and if you miss one box that you need to check off the form it could push the whole build out back 2 weeks. Lots of I’s to be crossed and T’s to be dotted.
6) When you stop and think about being a barber, what makes you feel the best?
The immediate connection I have with generations before me. I can meet a 75 year old barber and within minutes share stories, frustrations, proud moments or whatever it is and be connected. A brother in arms if you will.
One of the most obvious differences between the old timers and your class is first impressions.Most guys now are covered in tattoos, so I’m wondering how the old timers normally react when you introduce yourself as a barber?
When I was younger it was definitely met with a guarded response. It almost seemed to start as an interview of sorts more then a conversation until I answered enough questions correctly. I’ve been a licensed barber for 12 years now, there’s no more vetting process. I can definitely say I’m guilty of carrying on that tradition of an interview introduction as well though.
7) What do you get into outside of the shop? Hobbies, obsessions, collections, etc.
I’m a single dad and I have a two boys that take all my attention when not working. I think now is a good time to say I don’t just cut hair and own barber shops either. I co-produce the MusInk Tattoo Convention & Music Festival here in Orange County as well as have several festivals I provide pop-up barber shops at. I’ve recently started an in house barber program for some action sports companies in the area as well. What I’m saying is my hobby and obsession is barbering and applying it to as many different avenues as possible. As far as collections go I collect old barber equipment and good times.
I’m sorry, did you say that you collect good times?
Hell yeah man! I’m all about making memories and sharing experiences with friends and family. Forget a bucket list it should be a to do list.
8) Where do you find inspiration within/outside the barber industry?
Entrepreneurs, rags to riches stories, the struggle! I love to learn about personal growth. I’m a biography fiend. Books, documentaries, podcasts, anything really. Real life happenings you know.
Within my world of barbering I don’t find inspiration, I find more comfort. I like the history of the trade. I used to joke that the last major breakthrough in barbering is when our tools became electric.
Are there a couple you’d really recommend?
Ella Brennan: Commanding the Table is an awesome documentary about a legendary restaurateur and New Orleans Icon. Petty: The Biography is the last book I read about Tom Petty and his life. Mike Rowe has a podcast called The Way I heard it. He does incredible 10 - 15 minute stories about all types of people through out history and reveals who it is at the very end. I think he's up to 100 episodes now, my kids and I like to listen to them while we're driving.
9) Advice for someone trying to open their owns shop?
Don’t. Unless your city doesn’t have a good barber shop. If it has a couple shops already go to the one you can devote yourself too. That has a crew of guys you can celebrate and commiserate with. I’m guilty of stepping on toes with my shops but I’ve also had my toes stepped on a lot! Thankfully where I am it’s so over populated everyone can eat.
10) Random thoughts on what you do….
Here’s some advice for anyone that’s been licensed for 5 years or less;
Barbering has never been more popular and profitable then it is right now. Find an old guy and listen to what he has to say. Don’t fuck this up for the rest of us!
11) What is your biggest career/life failure that has in turn caused you to change in a positive way?
I've had failures in life and career but they've never been negative. Positivity is a mind set that takes constant practice and application. For example, I had a barber supply and men's grooming shop for almost 3 years that I closed down. It was a conscience and calculated closure that taught me more then I could have ever imagined. I lost money, owed money, had to shut down a website, liquidate fixtures and product fast and way below what I paid for it. Then I had to explain to customers and friends and family over the next year why I closed it, constantly talking about my "failure." I chose to see the positive through the whole process. I gained new business experiences and lessons that the barber shop could never provide. Now I can take that knowledge and apply it to the barber shop and other business opportunities that come up. Constant practice and application.
Great stuff, Mr. Danger. Thank you.
There is always a particular itch that is scratched when I shoot fitness like this. Unrehearsed real workouts. Nothing staged. Just as a fly on the wall waiting for things to unfold. While looking at these images months after the shoot I realized that neither of them was sweating, which is very strange. Then I realized how hot it was that day and that their sweat was just instantly evaporating. They didn’t complain.
Q&A number 4 in this series with a lot more on the way. This is a great follow up from last week’s post about Poo from Lefty’s Barbershop, as Brian Burt is the guy who originally started Lefty’s back in the day. Since then Brian has sold Lefty’s, started other shops, worked at some, and consulted on others. He’s been around, and to me, always seems like the the most professional of barbers. A guy that holds himself and other barbers to a very high standard. He embraces his less than legal past with no shame and uses it to better his future. Gotta love that.
FYI: These images of Brian were taken when he was cutting at Vinnie’s in Los Angeles. He now owns his own place (Lyle’s Barbershop) in Portland, OR.
Follow Brian on Instagram @lyles_barbershop.
“It’s not about how many tattoos you have….”
1) Where are you from and what did you do prior to barber college?
I'm from a small town in Washington State called Puyallup located about 30 miles south of Seattle. Days Before starting barber college I worked in construction part time and was selling and transporting large amounts of marijuana.
Can you tell me more about your time transporting marijuana?
Days before enrolling in barber college, I was a drug mule. I was spending on average 10 to 15 days a month transporting marijuana to other states via Canada. This was in the late 90's early 2000's and it was a big operation, I mean pounds of marijuana would come south of the boarder ( that's a whole other story) and I would fly up to Seattle from San Diego, rent a car, pick up the package, drive to Colorado or wherever and drop it off. Then I'd pick up the money and drive back to San Diego. I'd do this at least 2 times a month. I'd also invest in a couple pounds to distribute around San Diego as well, it was a very lucrative business for a 27 year old but once I hit my 30's the business was slowing down and I was burning out on all the traveling. I started transporting less and started working construction part time but I hated it. I hated getting dirty and being told what to do and the pay was terrible compared to the 8K a month I'd make on a transporting.
Back then I had hair so I was going to the barber shop every week. I was learning and studying the business model of this shop on my visits. And seeing that it’s a cash business and you're your own boss, it looked like my barber was having a good time and loving what he did. So in 2003 I enrolled and never looked back. Actually, I did sell my last 2 ounces of weed while in barber college.
2) You have opened and sold a number of different shops (including Lefty’s in San Diego). What was that process like and what lead you to sell?
Yes, I've opened 3 of my own shops, and consulted 2 other shops. I love the entire process of building a barbershop. I love walking into a empty space and having a vision of what the finished barber shop is going to look like. Selling or leaving a shop is always bitter sweet. You know, you've put all your love, energy, blood, sweat and tears into a space, then you’re walking away. But usually there is a nice stack of cash to help you feel better about your decision... lol
2a) What’s it like to see Lefty’s still pumping today as a staple in San Diego?
Man, seeing Lefty's up and running today is an amazing feeling. Knowing that a LOT of our original patrons are still going there today is mind boggling. I never thought a shop I started would be a thriving business 12 years later. I’m so stoked that it still looks exactly like it did when i opened the doors 12 years ago.
3) How have you seen your attitude change toward barbering in 15 years?
My attitude really hasn't changed much in the past 15 years as a licensed barber. I’m still hard on myself and my barbers. I still treat the client like they are the most important person in the room. I still have major OCD of keeping my work station and shop extremely clean and welcoming.
Can you talk more specifically about how the OCD plays out as a barber?
My OCD, has always been a struggle. Way before becoming a barber I always kept my car clean, shoes fresh ( wiping them down daily) so it has naturally carried on to my barbering. I dust off my patron at least 20 times during the service and get compliments from customers daily, " Brian, I can go straight back to work after you cut my hair, you never leave hair on me or my neck" lol... I clean and sanitize my tools after every single service, sometimes during the service as well. I make sure my barbercide jar is the clearest of blue as well. I used to post this barberside jar rant on IG and it would get a lot of feedback. My biggest pet peeve is a barbercide jar disgustingly full of hair, crammed with combs and a dirty straight razors hanging off the side, it would drive me nuts, lol..
4) After living and cutting in Southern California for so long, why did you leave and open a shop in Portland?
I moved and opened a barbershop in Portland for a better life. The pace of Portland is a lot slower than other cities I've called home, and that’s better for my sanity. The economy is booming here in Portland. Portland is a pretty big city but has a small town feel. I also knew with my work ethic and barbering style I could bring something special to Portland. There aren't a lot of "traditional barbershops" that look, feel and operate like Lyle’s. We are not just another barbershop. We’re a cornerstone to our local community, and we get thanked daily for opening in our neighborhood.
What is it about a smaller city that is better for your sanity?
The small city vibe is better for me. As I get older i don't like to be around a lot of people. In Portland there's less traffic, more parking, people are little more relaxed, there's a slower pace...I could go on and on.
5) Describe the mental roller coaster of moving to a new place and opening a new shop?
Man, the mental roller coaster is real, lol... upon moving to Portland I knew no one. I knew maybe 3 local barbers. I had to build Lyle’s by myself and the help of my wife and a couple childhood friends. When I opened I didn't have ANY clientele. The whole first month I was a sitting duck 7 days a week 10 hour days. Slowly but surely people started coming by and checking out the shop, then, thank goodness business started to take off.
What do you think lead to the increase in business?
I think we saw an increase in business because Portland doesn't have any shops like Lyle's or have many barbers carrying on the tradition like myself or Kris. Cruise around Portland sometime and see for yourself. Most of the "barbershops" look like salons or are run like salons. We focus on providing a traditional atmosphere and overall experience rather than giving beer and booze as an incentive. Things are changing around the world. Patrons are sick and tired of the gimmicks. They appreciate that we take pride in what we do and respect tradition. They want to feel like the barber gives a shit about them and the service we are providing. We don't do anything half ass at Lyle's. We not only wear smocks, we wear clean slacks and freshly shined shoes. We don't hide under hats or hoodies. We look our best because we take pride in the authenticity of being a BARBER! Even small details like music choice is carefully picked through out the day to set the ambiance and make everyone feel welcome.
6) Has the Portland barber community been supportive?
The barber community in Portland is very Supportive. Upon moving here, Rudy from Cowlick Barber Shop helped me out a lot with my licensing. The barber test in Oregon was not easy to pass. Once I was licensed, Sang from Throne let me work for him until I found space to open my own shop. So I’m grateful to have had that support. Now that I’m open, almost every week a local barber comes in for a cut, shave or to say hi and hangout. I like to say Lyle’s is your barber’s favorite barbershop. Barbers from all over the country have also made a point to come check us out on there visit to Portland.
7) Why do you run your shop the way you do?
In today's barber world I feel the barbershop has lost its roots and authenticity. 8 out of 10 barbershops around the world are looking more like a skate shop or tattoo shop. The barbers are dressed like they are headed to a music festival or something. Me, I was mentored by old ass barbers that had 40 to 50 years of barbering under their belt. So it was embedded into me how a barber should conduct himself, how his business should be run, how his haircut should be executed, how to show respect for the patron, and the most important part, how to provide the patron with best barber service possible. The patron should have the most positive experience possible. It’s making the patron feel at home upon there visit that makes them choose you. It’s not about how many tattoos you have. I could go on and on on this topic. But that’s just a couple of reasons I run Lyle's the way I do.
8) What do you get into outside of the shop?
Outside of work, I like to stay active and hangout with my wife and dog. As I get older my circle gets smaller. I enjoy cycling, riding my Harley, skateboarding, hiking, exploring Portland's food and bar scene.
9) Thoughts on the IG era of barbering?
My thoughts on the IG era of barbering: I LOVE IT?! lol ummm.. lets look at the bright side and then the down side. Some of the bright side, IG has opened the doors for so many barbers around the world. It’s connected so many barbers. IG has made it possible to be a successful barber without even owning or actually working in a barbershop. I personally know a handful of barbers that work out of their garage or private room or they just do house calls, lol.. It’s crazy to think that that's possible but with IG, it is. The downside we all know and see daily, barbers acting as if they are celebrities, or doing full on photo shoots after EVERY haircut, lol... its actually kinda sad seeing grown men/woman posting their every move, or selling there souls for a $7 can of pomade. I feel I'm lucky to have got into barbering before IG. It’s hard to explain, but before social media ONLY BARBERS WERE FUCK'N WITH BARBERING. Cosmos would never want to become barbers. Little Jimmy living with his mommy and daddy from the suburbs wasn't wanting to become a barber, there weren't any pomade or scissor salesmen, etc. But IG has opened the door to the barbershop without having to even step into a shop or talking with a old timer about the fundamentals of being a barber. So I feel IG has given a false reality of what being a barber is really about.
10) Where do you pull inspiration from inside/outside the barber industry?
I find inspiration in barbering from watching new and older barbers. I love seeing a brand new bright eyed bushy tailed barber cutting who respects the trade. They are always so excited and love what they are doing. The veterans are always inspiring to watch. I love going into an old ass barbershop that has an old ass barber in there, sit back with a bag of popcorn and a soda, and take it all in. Outside of the barber world I draw inspiration from the tattoo world, art world, and the service industry in general. We all have a very similar business model, we all work with the public, we all have to market ourselves. The more you work the more money you make, so I really like to keep an eye on how they are all moving in there own business worlds. You can learn so much if you sit back an listen. I'm still always learning.
11) Random thoughts on what you do…
Well, I feel we are all in this trade for the same reason to make money and have fun doing it. We go to work like every other job out there, but we are apart of something really special. Its hard to explain to people who have never set foot in a barbershop, but when you walk into a shop that's a well running machine, full of patrons, banter, talc in the air, bay rum spilling onto the floor, its a special thing. I'm so stoked that after 15 years of cutting hair I still have the passion and love for this trade. Barbering has given me so much, and that's why I try and do my part on keeping the authenticity of barbering going. We owe it to our forefathers that were standing behind the chair putting hair on the floor decades before we were even born. Whether you know it or not, all of us barbers make a huge impact on our patrons lives and our community. So show some fuckin respect to this trade got dammit!
Have been greatly slacking on posts about my commercial stuff, but will get back to that soon. Not sure you can classify the below images as "street photography", but I don't know what else to call them? Either way, this style of shooting is something I have really enjoyed doing in my free time. And think it's very important for a photographer to shoot locally. Most guys put so much emphasis on traveling to exotic places, and that's a lot of fun, but what about your backyard? There is so much character in Southern California that gets overlooked by all the beautiful tourist destinations. Those little pieces are what I enjoy focusing on, and have recently started putting more effort into this project not just in Encinitas (where I live), but in all of "Southern California". It's a unique pocket of the world that is fun to wander around in, and I'm excited to see what this body of images looks like in 10 years.
My relationship with Lefty's goes back quite a ways. It was my spot almost immediately after I moved to San Diego 10+/- years ago. My barber (AJ) has since moved on to open his own shop (Capitol Barbershop), but I've sorta had the opportunity to see a few of the guys there grow quite a bit. And Mikal Zack aka "Poo" is no exception. Years and years ago I desperately needed a last minute haircut, but AJ was out of town. Poo was the only one available. At that time, Poo was FRESH out of barber school. And like anyone who was ever brand new at anything, he wasn't very good, so I got chopped up. If you pay attention to what he's doing now though, his haircuts are absolutely on point. Really top notch. Some of the best around. I really appreciate him because he's always trying to improve. He went from giving shitty haircuts to being part owner of Lefty's Barbershop. And for anyone who knows, they know Lefty's is a San Diego staple. Respect.
Follow Poo on IG @pooscreen and the shop @leftysbarbershop
"I always had envisioned starting and finishing my career with Lefty’s, Kobe style".
1) Where are you from and what did you do before becoming a barber?
I am born and Raised in San Diego, CA. I worked at Pacific Drive skateboard shop before becoming a barber.
2) What attracted you to barbering?
Lefty’s was my first introduction to a real barber shop. Hanging out there is what got me into barbering. The fact that a guy could come in, have a beer, talk some shit, escape their reality of some boring 9-5 for just 30 minutes and leave looking good and feeling confident about themselves is what attracted me to barbering.
3) Talk about starting your career at Lefty's and now being part owner.
I only went to barber school so I could work at Lefty’s. There was no other option for me. I was able to work with and learn from some of the best barbers who later went on to start rad Barbershops of their own (Brent at Good Times Barbershop, Brian at Lyles Barbershop, AJ at Capitol Barbershop). I always had envisioned starting and finishing my career with Lefty’s, Kobe style. Being given the opportunity to be part owner with one of my best friends, Felipe Becerra, is definitely more than I ever thought possible.
*What do you mean by "there was no other option for me"? Explain that. What would you have done if you didn't become a barber?
I was working at a skateboard shop before barbering and only wanted to work in the skateboard Industry. That’s all I really knew at the time. Jobs in the industry were scarce at the time and I was pretty low on the totem pole. Going to barber school was really my Only option into starting a “career.” There was no way I was going to make it through college nor did I want to go that route and have a regular 9-5. I was already good homies with everyone at the shop and when they were opening their second location Felipe assured me I would have a job if I finished school.
How was your experience at barber school?
Getting through barber school wasn’t easy for me. There were countless times I thought about dropping out. I called Felipe and told him I didn’t think barbering was for me numerous times. After school I would go hang out at Lefty’s and watch them do haircuts and try and learn tricks to do certain things. I would take what I learned back to school and see a little bit of progression, that’s what kept me going. I worked my ass off to get where I’m at. I wasn’t naturally talented as a barber, it was all hard work and repetition. There is something rewarding about having to really work at something to start to understand it. I’m still nowhere near where I want to be as a barber, but the progress I’ve made from last year to this year is what shows me my hard work is paying off.
6) Other places you get inspiration from outside the barber industry?
I’m constantly inspired by my group of friends. The way my girlfriend talks about plants and flowers and the long hours and hard work she puts into running a business makes me feel like I need to step my game up. My boys at Half Face Blades for making the most insane knives on the daily. From motorcycle builders to skateboarders if you take a look around there are super talented people working hard for what they want and that’s pretty inspiring to me.
7) What do you do outside of the shop? Hobbies? Obsessions? Collections?
I spend a lot of time geeking out on motorcycles. That’s definitely a bit of an obsession. I still follow skateboarding very closely (even though I don’t actually skateboard nearly enough). I mean we are in San Diego so hanging at the beach with the homies is always a good day.
*You've mentioned skateboarding twice now. Why do you think there is such a connection between skateboarding and barbers?
I think it’s safe to say that a lot of our generation of barbers grew up skateboarding. I like to look at barbering how I would look at skating. The more you do a haircut the better you get at it. The better you get the higher your expectations are of yourself. Trying to perfect the haircut reminds me of trying to perfect a trick, it’s probably not going to happen but sometimes you are very pleased with the outcome.
8) What part of being a barber do you want to be better at?
All of it. It’s only been 7 years. I can’t wait to see where I’m at in another 7.
9) What do you think about the IG era of barbering?
I personally like posting photos of haircuts, I like having an online portfolio. I think that showcasing your work for a potential new client to look at before he sits in your chair is a good thing. That being said, I also think that people enhancing their photos with photoshop or whatever is giving not only our clients but new barbers unrealistic expectations.
10) Random thoughts on what you do......
Don’t be complacent. Don’t be an asshole. Work hard and get where you want to be. You will never be the best, but strive to be.
*You were very complimentary of a lot of people, specifically barbers. That's been one of my favorite themes in the barber industry, that you are all so supportive of each other. Why is that? How does that work?
I think the support comes from respect. Barbers respect barbers. We all know the grind, the long hours, the hurt backs, the frustrating clients, on your feet all day, hard work that goes into being a good barber. I respect anyone who puts in the time and wants to further themselves in whatever career they choose.
It blows my mind that I never bothered to explore the Kern River up until recently. Being only 4.5 hours from San Diego, it's a gem. In fact, I already regret posting about it, because I don't want anyone else to go there. It's hotter than hell in the summer, so most of the action has to be early morning and late late afternoon. Still haven't been up there in the winter, but can only imagine it's beautiful. Probably pretty sleepy too.
Just got out of a week in the woods, so I'm a bit late on this post to make it effective at all, but still wanted to talk about it. The San Diego Union Tribune asked me to talk about my barbershop book at the San Diego Festival of Books this past weekend at Liberty Station. Truthfully, until they reached out I didn't even know the festival existed, and wasn't sure what to expect. It turned out great though. All of the panels were in private rooms with about 60 chairs, and every one was sold. I was on the panel with another photographer and the discussion was moderated by a woman from the Tribune. She had some great questions, as did the audience. So all in all it was a fun experience and I hope to do something similar again in the future.
Part 2 of ? in my Q&A series with barbers from the book. This time with Ron Talley of Electric Barbershop in Riverside, CA. Met Ron about two years (?) ago at the shop when they had sort of just opened. He struck me as a very genuine dude. No bullshit. Not the kind of guy who tells people what they want to hear, which I very much appreciate. He's a good person while just being himself. The world needs more of that. Before opening his own shop, he worked at American Barbershop (Corona, CA), Stay Gold (Pomona, CA), El Catrin (Santa Ana, CA), Monty’s (Nashville, TN), and American Vintage in Whittier, CA. You can follow him on IG @ron_talley and the shop @electricbarbershop.
"I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. Didn’t have a car. Drivers license was suspended. Didn’t have a place to stay...."
1) Where are you from and what led you into barbering?
Born in Houston Texas. Moved a lot. We lived in a cabin on the Buffalo River 17 miles outside of my mother’s hometown; Hohenwald, TN. My parents got divorced when I was in grade school. My dad and I moved to Redondo Beach, CA with family then finally settled in Diamond Bar, CA. I was around 11/12 years old & that is when I met my friend and co-owner Roman Ybanez. His brother was one of my first friends that I met when I started school in the neighborhood. Growing up in Southern California was probably the best thing for me. Lots of different cultures and scenes. I was about 19-20 when I first met Dylan Johnson. He was a barber at Hawleywoods Barbershop. That is when I saw something special in Barbering. The conversations, laughs, shit talking, & everyone having a great time. Not because of the shop itself, because of the barbers and the relationships they had with their customers.
I started barber school in Orange, CA at Hair California in 2009. I felt like dropping out the first day of school. I had zero experience in cutting hair and struggled more than most of the students in my class. School was exactly what all of my friends said it was going to be. A lot of youngsters that were there just because mom and dad told them school or work, and people that just weren’t taking it serious. For them it was more of a thing to do. Our instructor was a licensed cosmetologist that just received her barber license. She was great when it came to how to pass your state board test (extremely important) but most of the senior students had more knowledge of men’s cuts & styles. Having zero experience cutting hair made it extremely difficult on top of having a instructor that was almost the same skill level on men’s hair. Most of all, I was just in a bad place. Lots of personal things keeping me down & failure. But failure is the best lesson in my opinion.
1a) Can you expand on "lots of personal things keeping me down...?"
Not a problem my brother. Before finding barbering I worked all sorts of jobs. Construction, retail, maintenance man, motorcycle fabrication... When I was getting in to barber school I was laid off from working construction & the fly shop at Bass Pro. I was trying to figure out what I was going to do. Didn’t have a car. Drivers license was suspended. Didn’t have a place to stay. My wife and I were dating at the time. I have no idea what she saw in me. We were living in and out of sketchy hotels and motels during the week and shooting up to my uncles cabin in Crestline on the weekends. Since there was so much going on, and so many things in my life that I had to clean up that I just fucked off as a kid, it was tough. Especially having zero experience cutting hair. My dad let me borrow some money to get in to barber school so quitting was not an option. At the time if you went to school for a trade the gov was offering unemployment. I was definitely lucky that I didn’t have to work and go to school part time. So that and side hustling cutting hair (shot out haircuts), I was able to have a little cash to get my life back in order. We got a tiny duplex in Corona, I got my license, and a bucket of a car. I stayed in school & went to visit my good friend Dylan Johnson to pick his brain and learn as much as possible. Eventually passing my state board test and getting my career started.
2) What did you learn along the way?
The “what not to do’s”. Not to half ass and cut corners. Not just the cleanliness & appearance of the shop. All the tools in the shop; the stations, barber chairs, hot towel cabinets, lather machines, lighting. Literally everything in that place is a tool that makes your job & your barbers jobs easier. That goes for service as well. Longevity is key. How do you expect people to keep coming back if you’re providing terrible service or treating them like trash? Not to disrespect your barbers. You provide a space for your people to grow but keeping in mind that’s all you’re going to have; just a space without barbers. It’s nothing special without the people that work there. Your business will not grow if you don’t allow your barbers to grow. Never tell your barbers “if it wasn’t for me”. The sun doesn’t rise and set in your shop homie. Do not be dishonest with your barbers. At the end of the day we are in one of the oldest trades around. We are here to service people and take care of them. Customers give us the opportunity to make them look good, feel good, and provide for our families. Don’t lose sight of that.
3) Can you talk a little more about the relationship between barber and customer?
This one is another one that gets me pretty fired up! Over the past few years this trade has become extremely popular. Because of that we are seeing a lot of change. Just like anything else you’re going to get some really strange personalities. Barbers that feel like they are doing you the favor. Instead of being humbled and grateful for the amazing opportunities that we have just from cutting hair, they take it for granted and always expect way more. Our customers are the ones putting money in our pockets, food on our tables, & the clothes on our backs. I do not care how bad ass you think you are. How bad ass are you if there’s nobody sitting in your chair? We are blue collared workers. One of the oldest trades period. We provide a service. You should never feel like you’re too good.
4) When we first met, Electric was really new, and I think you guys were still kinda slow? Can you talk about what you've done to grow the business to where it is now? What specifically did you learn at the other shops about what not to do?
Yes! The good ole days! We definitely had our share of slow days! I feel like we’ve grown as a team. Everyone gets involved and we try to move as a unit. Helping one another whenever there is down time with everything. Social media, google, & yelp is huge! Doing our best to keep fresh new content and pushing our customers to leave honest reviews. Hitting the streets and pushing that hand to hand with business cards and flyers. I feel like that is a lost art. So many people are quick to send a DM or an email. We did our absolute best to get out in our community and meet people face to face and spread the gospel of Electric Barbershop. Most of all is just keeping a good vibe in the shop. Making sure everyone is on top of their game. Pushing out solid work with a great attitude, keeping a clean welcoming shop, & making people feel like they are a part of something that is really special.
5) Random thoughts on what you do...
Barbering has given me the opportunity to open a business. It has also given me the opportunity to be an Ambassador with Uppercut Deluxe, some of the best people I’ve worked with in my career. It’s amazing to think you can travel, see new places, & meet new people just from cutting hair. It blows my mind and I feel fortunate and grateful everyday.
8,141 American miles are in the books. If you made me choose, this is probably the thing I love doing the most with a camera. It's all fun, but this is really the tops for me. Just being out on my own for weeks at a time can't be beat. Every trip is different and great in it's own way. This one started off a bit rocky. Not long before leaving, I had some work done on my truck which I assumed was all set. Then, a couple days into the drive, the engine started screaming while going up Monarch Pass in Colorado. Keep in mind that this is practically a brand new truck. So I pulled over and opened the hood only to see that the coolant was actively boiling. I was supposed to be meeting a buddy at Denver airport the next morning and then on to our mutual friends house to surprise him for his birthday. It was obvious that wasn't going to happen. I let the engine cool down then put it in neutral and coasted as far down the mountain as I could to try and get some cell service. After trying for an hour I was finally able to reach a tow truck driver. He came and got us (Mojo) and dropped us off at the garage, which of course was closed until the next day. Threw a couple bags on my back and we schlepped it to a hotel about a mile+ away. The only hotel that would allow Mojo had no air conditioning to combat the brutally hot summer temperatures. Oh well. Next morning we schlepped back up the hill to the garage. Owner said he wasn't sure what the problem could be, but would take a look ASAP. That ASAP was about 3 hours, so Mojo and I walked into the woods(the only place we could sit down and be out of the sun) and read a book. Garage ordered the part they thought would fix the problem, but it wouldn't be there until about 3:30 and they close at 5. This was a Friday and they don't open again until Monday. Now I was faced with the real possibility of the truck not being fixed until the following week. So I started looking into rental cars. The only option was a local guy who had a few vehicles to rent, but when I started filling out the paperwork I realized that his vehicles aren't aloud to go more than 150 miles away from town. Next. There was one car left in a town that would require $115 cab ride, and the rental fee was going to be $400 for 3 days. Plus I would have to drive 6 hours southwest to Pagosa Springs to return it, when I needed to be continuing on northeast to my final destination (Cape Cod). Tried arguing with RAM to give me a loaner vehicle for a couple days, but that didn't work. The customer service woman called back twenty minutes later and said she was able to get me a rental in Durango under their very reasonable corporate rate. So I took the $115 cab ride and got the rental, figuring that 3 nights of hotels staying in town waiting would be costly anyway. Picked up the car, then went back to the garage to grab all my stuff, only to find out that the truck had been fixed. Now I had a fixed truck and a rental car. Screw it, I left the rental at the garage and hoped that the rental company could come pick it up on Monday. Turns out the 0-ring on the cap for the coolant reservoir was bad so the coolant was leaking out the whole time I was driving. And it got low to the point of not being able to cool the engine and just when through the roof while going up Monarch Pass. A tiny piece that probably costs 2 cents to make caused that much trouble. Unreal. Things really sucked for about 20 hours, but I made it up to Denver on Saturday morning and we were still able to surprise my buddy. Looking back now, I can't even believe that was part of the same trip as all the images below. It's funny how things start melting together on the road. You're so stimulated by everything you see that it's hard to make sense of it until you get home and let it all digest for a while. Love the road. Can't wait to get back out there.
Side note: It seems that on every trip there is one state that treats you better then all the rest. Not sure why it is, but photographically things tend to gel in one state the most. It's a different state every time, but it always happen. On this trip, I believe that state was Illinois. Cheers Illinois!
This is the first in what I hope is a long line of Q&A's with barbers from my book. I'm naturally curious about people and the way they live, so I thought this would be a fun thing to do. Adam Byrd cuts at Syndicate Barbershop in Long Beach, CA and is a great example of what I love about the "next generation" of barbers. So many of them are covered in tattoos, which could be very intimidating to people who aren't used to that culture. Once you get past that and talk to them though, you'll see they are just good people who happen to have a lot of ink on their skin. I enjoyed talking with Adam during the shoot because of his candid style, and figured he would be a good interview to kick this off with. I also think it's a good way for barbers to learn about other barbers and to be inspired by their stories. You can follow him on Instagram @bakoscum19 and the shop @syndicatebarbershop .
1) Where are you from and how did you make a living prior to becoming a barber?
Bakersfield, CA. Prior to becoming a barber I worked random construction jobs.
2) When we shot at Syndicate you mentioned moving to Long Beach because you were partying too much. Talk about that and what has changed since you moved to LB.
Partying too much, for me, means black tar heroin...crack cocaine...pills....and vodka. I was using heroin everyday, I was in and out of jail and prison...lived in shit bag hotel rooms. I was strung out and I had to quit doin' drugs. Since moving to Long Beach, I 've been off drugs for 5 years. I graduated barbering school, got married, and became a full time barber at Syndicate Barber Shop.
** Would you mind expanding on that?
So when I was a young Punk Rocker everyone that I looked up to was a heroin addict and most of them died very young. It was just a natural progression for me. I was 16 years old the first time I tried heroin. The first time I became strung out on that particular drug I was 19 years old. That was pretty much my life for a whole lot of years. Back then they weren’t so lenient with drug users so I eventually went to prison for 10 dollars worth of dope and with parole the way it was back then I was in and out- couldn’t clean up because really I didn’t want to. Eventually I got off parole but not off drugs and almost every bad thing that can happen to an addict short of dying or catching a terminal disease happened to me. I had girlfriends who were prostitutes, I was shot once in a drive by (in my foot haha), dropped off for dead in my mother’s driveway, woke up in the hospital handcuffed to a wheelchair. All kinds of crazy shit some people probably only think is in the movies. Then one day at age 35 I looked at myself in the mirror and was like ,”Well- you fucked off dying young, maybe it’s time.” December 12th, 2013 I did hard drugs for the last time in the restroom at Union Station downtown Los Angeles. At about 4 months sober I enrolled in Barberschool and the rest is history. This trade has literally helped me save my life because it has given me a life worth living. I met a kid who became one of my best friends, Anthony Champion, Rest In Peace, in barber school. He pushed me when I wanted to quit. My wife pushed me when I wanted to quit. My family pushed me when I wanted to quit. And Tim hired me when I was ready to just go to work in a sober living home haha. I don’t know where I’m going with this but I’ll tell you one thing I’m not falling asleep in a 30 dollar motel room tonight. And for that I’m grateful.
3) What was the final factor that lead you to start barber college?
To be honest, there really weren't a lot of options for a guy like me. The wreckage created from my past life makes me almost completely unemployable. Except for Tim. Tim doesn't give a fuck.
4) What is life like as a barber at Syndicate?
I've met some of my best friends working at Syndicate. I get to listen to music I love all day. I meet people from all over the United States and the world. I make cash daily and I get to make people feel better.
5) What are your favorite/least favorite parts about being a barber?
Least favorite: Rollercoaster income, man buns, picky metro-sexuals
Favorite: Get to hang out with my friends all day, get to make people feel better walking out then they did when they walked in, nobody seems to mind the fact that I am heavily tattooed or what my past has been.
6) Opinions on where the industry is now compared to when you were getting cut as a kid?
Hipsterville. Its saturated with hipsters...when I was a kid you went a got a fucking haircut, they did an alright job, and barbers didn't have egos..they didn't have Instagram. They didn't have this cool-guy bullshit. It's oversaturated with corny people. I like the old timers.
7) What is your greatest strength as a barber?
My greatest strength as a barber is my gift of gab. Cutting hair has helped me immensely go from being sort of introverted to getting outside of myself talking to people making them feel comfortable. I look a little intimidating so I always make it a priority to let a new clients know that I'm just a poo-butt teddy bear. And the way I do this is through a handshake, a conversation, and doing my best to make sure that time in my chair is enjoyable for the client. Like I’m not a dick or some too cool for school barber stuck up his own asshole.
8) What does is take to be a great barber?
I’m still learning what it takes to be a good barber haha but I’d say taking it seriously and doing your best haircut and remembering that even if you have an asshole in your chair that asshole is paying for your dinner that night. Be nice.
9) Advice for someone wanting to become a barber?
Try to join a union first.
10) Where do you see yourself in ten years?
This isn't a typical assignment for me, but had to share because it was such a unique experience. I followed Hulk Hogan around for the WWE during his induction to the Boys and Girls Club of America Hall of Fame. Admittedly I had no idea what a big deal this is or what would be going on. The place was filled with lots of former inductees as well as a big incoming class, which consisted of professional athletes from all sports and people like Shaun White and Jason Derulo. Who, by all accounts, are far more "relevant" today than Hulk Hogan. He has been retired for years and you rarely see or hear about him except in certain circles. Still though, he was the draw. EVERYBODY wanted to meet The Hulk and have their picture taken with him. Men and woman of all ages. Didn't matter. It was shocking. I've been around some of the biggest professional athletes in the world, yet there was something special about The Hulk. It was a quick reminder about the enormous impact he's had on the world. An easy thing to forget about when you don't see someone on TV anymore. Hulk Hogan is a once in lifetime personality, and I'll never forget shaking his enormous hand and having him say "HEY BROTHER!".
Been having a hard time describing how I feel about South Africa. The simplest thing to say is that it's beautiful. And while that's true, there is a lot more to it than that. You'd be hard pressed to find any logical person who wouldn't tell you it's beautiful. When you spend 30 hours on a plane though, you expect "different". The country as a whole, and Cape Town in particular has an odd way of making you feel not far from home as an American. Just about everybody speaks English and every single bar/restaurant you visit is playing American music. Doesn't matter if you're in a trendy city bar or a small town hole in the wall, chances are you're gonna hear Bon Jovi. And while I respect what he's done for music, I want to slam my head against the wall when I hear him come through the speakers while sipping on a gin cocktail (gin is big in South Africa) at a salty beach bar overlooking the Indian Ocean. Most people, no matter the reason for their trip, is looking to check out, disconnect, or soak up local culture when they visit a foreign country. That's hard to do when everything feels, at least on some level, like home. The architecture was the other thing that I felt was lacking. It didn't seem to have a very defined vibe. Nothing about it made you distinctly feel like you were in another place. Between the geography and architecture, there many times were I said to myself "we could be in California", or Colorado, or Arizona, etc. I was in an Uber one day with a driver from Rwanda and he asked if it was my first time to Africa. I said yes, to which he responded "So you have not been to Africa!". And proceeded to tell me that I was in "Africa Light". After thinking about it for a while, I had to agree with him. All that being said, we still had a great time and we're very happy we went. Travel is something that should change you no matter what. Whether or not you see what you're expecting to see is irrelevant. The experience itself will stretch you and change your point of view. That undoubtedly happened, so the trip is a win. Now for the positives. One thing that certainly sticks out is how genuine and friendly they people are. You get the sense that they really want you to enjoy your time there as a visitor. And that goes for everything from a cup of coffee (which is taken VERY seriously) to a walk on the beach or a animal safari. When you thank them for anything, their response will always be "pleasure" or "you must enjoy it". And they mean it. Nobody is in a hurry and that's something you learn right away from the food/drink service. It's also a reminder just how American you are, and how demanding we are about service. Speaking of food; they do seafood very well. Not sure I've ever had so many oysters in a two week period. What they are really passionate about is meat though. "Braai" and "Biltong" are huge. The first being their version of bbq, and the second is what we would call beef jerky. Both delicious. Biltong is something that I will be making at home on my own. The farmers markets which seem to always take place in all towns on Saturdays are top notch. We we're lucky to visit a bunch of them and we're always very impressed. It was obvious that they were a thing to do because the vibe at them was so great. There was so much energy. Loved the markets. A must do.
Cape Town itself isn't a huge place. It's something that I would almost compare in a certain way to Denver. A small place with a good amount to offer, but you don't necessarily live there for the city. There is so much around Cape Town that is amazing. And that goes for the ever present Table Mountain, Lions Head, Signal Hill or all the small towns up north or down south on the peninsula. Driving the coast is gorgeous. Reminds me a lot of driving up the coast of northern California and Oregon. And most (not all) of the touristy things that people do when they visit South Africa are worth doing. We tried cage diving for Great White Sharks, but got snubbed. They didn't want to come out an play. Also did a safari and it was awesome. Had an amazing guide who provided an unforgettable experience and allowed us to see some beautiful animals. So yeah, do that stuff, but I also think it's important to have just as many things that are unplanned. Some of our best memories came from just wandering around and stopping in random towns. That seems to be consistent. The unknown and unexpected are always welcome. Talk to locals for info that you won't ever get in a guide book. That's where the fun starts. If everything is planned, then you close out the opportunity to see things that you didn't expect. And where is the fun in only checking off boxes? Anyway, we loved South Africa as a whole, but wished that is was a bit more "African". Now we know and next time will be going much farther north.
Would I recommend Cape Town/the souther coast to people for a trip? Yes and no. For anyone who wants to visit a beautiful foreign country that's easy to navigate and interact with locals (no language barrier), then this is a great place. For someone who is looking to be completely pushed out of their comfort zone, the answer would be no. Either way, I always encourage people to travel more.
A few months ago I listened to a presentation by David Allen Harvey, who I have the utmost respect for as a photographer. He's one of those guys who has been doing things his way all along. One of the things he said during the presentation was that "you need to live with images for a while" or something to that point. That comment has been running around in my head ever since. For as long as I can remember, I've been making photographers of certain things and not really known why other than because I was drawn to that thing. More importantly, I didn't know what I was going to do with the images. Then I "lived with then for a while", and started to understand which images were good, which ones were totally worthless, but most of all how they work as a body of images. I've been nonchalantly shooting images related to fishing and the ocean for a few years now. Just here and there during free time or on trips to foreign places. Most of those images you will never see because they suck or because they don't fit with a theme. That doesn't matter though. What's important is that I kept shooting those images, which lead me to discover that I enjoyed the subject, and later on developed a body of work. I don't by any means think that it's complete, but it's a great start, and I'll continue shooting this subject matter indefinitely. Aside from being a lot of fun, the hope is that the work leads to commercial clients like all my other personal projects. Sometimes I feel like I work in reverse. Most people actively shoot things for clients and use that work to get other clients. I create images for myself because I love doing it, and trust that it will lead likeminded clients to me.
Finished up another bit of international travel with my fist trip to the continent of Africa. We went to South Africa specifically, which the northerners call "Africa Light". They seem to think that if you've only been to South Africa, then you really haven't been to Africa. Sort of a funny thing to hear. Either way it's a beautiful country. More to come....
We had the release party last Sunday for my new book "Barbershops of America - Then and Now". The day was many things, but the word that comes to mind the most is humbling. There were a couple hundred people in attendance, with barbers that flew in from New Hampshire, New York, Indian, Illinois, Oregon, Washington, and Texas. That in itself makes me extremely grateful, knowing that the barber community trusts in me enough to do something like that. I'm also thankful to have been the perfect excuse to bring together so many people that support each other but have never actually met. Social media has connected them via the internet. The party though, gave them the opportunity to actually hang out. Barbers for the most part are characters, so it was fun to see so many of them in one place just hanging out and drinking beer. It seems from the response that everyone is really pumped about the book, which is all that I can ask. This project has been going on for 5+ years, and was/is an enormous amount of fun. When I look at the final product there are some things that really chap my ass and keep me up at night. Not sure there is any way around that unfortunately? In this kid of profession, or whatever you want to call it, there will always be those things that you want to change or improve. When I really think about the book though, it was made for barbers. So to have them embrace it is all the payoff I need. Next up, Barbershops of the World???
5 more days until the release party and it's shaping up to be a great one. The power of social media has really helped to spread the word, and the response has been humbling. Barbers from all over the country are flying in to attend which is cool on a lot of levels. Mostly because I'm excited for all of them to meet for the first time, while drinking beer and talking about the profession that they love. If you're around, come on down to Pig Barber in Costa Mesa. We're gonna have a blast and there will be a lot of treats being raffled off from Uppercut Deluxe, Irving Barber Co, Andis Clippers, and cold brew will be flowing courtesy of House Beer.
I'm of the completely biased opinion that San Diego is the best place to live in America. Not that it's a stretch, but it's still biased. One of the things that comes along with living in such a beautiful place is tons of year round visitors who all seem to make the same pictures. Let's be honest, San Diego is a really easy place to photograph. Go to just about any landscape gallery in the country and you're sure to see a big framed image of Antelope Canyon (AZ), Horseshoe Bend(AZ), and Scripps Pier among many other overly shot landmarks. A long time ago I realized that I have almost no desire to photograph the landmarks. What's the point? They've all been shot a million times over. And I'm certainly not a landscape photographer, so I won't be making any money from the shots. I still think it's important to photograph the place you live though. So over the past couple years, I've slowly developed a body of images made in various parts of San Diego. You're not going to see any images of Scripps Pier or Lajolla Cove in this gallery, but they are still interesting in my opinion. And images that I feel are representative of San Diego.
Thought this project was going to be done about a year ago, but I suppose that's just how it goes? Either way I'm really excited that the second barbershop book is finally on it's way. For anyone not familiar with the project, I initially spent 3 years (on and off) traveling to all 50 states with Mojo, documenting the old and quickly disappearing American barbershop. At the end of it all, that group of images was published into a book. Then about a year and half ago I started the project again. The whole time still documenting old school shops, but also photographing the "next generation" of shops that I feel are doing things the right way. So this second book is essentially an extension of the first. A lot of the images from the first book are also in this one, but completely re-edited, and with a proper trimming of the fat. The printing is also better than the first book, and I think the addition of all the new shops shows an incredible contrast of where the barber industry has grown to. I'm proud of the book and excited for people to see it. The barber industry has been very welcoming of me, so I hope that the book is something they feel does them right.
On Sunday May 6th, we'll be having a book release party at the notorious Eagle+Pig Barbershop in Costa Mesa, CA (Orange County). We've got some great people behind the project with sponsorships from Uppercut Deluxe, Andis Clippers, Irving Barber Company, and House Beer. It's sure to be a great time with tons of raffles, so come hang out, check out the book, drink some beer, and talk to some cool barbers.