Inside The African-American Barbershops Of Oakland

The Stylish Visual Artist Showing The Craft Of Afro-Hair Cutting In GIFs

Almost everyone in the world knows about the ubiquitous GIF, the Graphics Interchange Format that jolted into existence in 1987. As developments in art grow alongside the latest technologies, along came GIF art, the potential of which is explored in a fascinating new project by Brandon Tauszik, who resides in San Francisco’s Bay Area working as a video director and photographer. Tapered Throne is a invitation into the secluded black community barbershops in the artist’s home town of Oakland, California. “I began paying visits to some of the barbershops in my neighbourhood; shooting and spending time speaking with the barbers there,” he reflects. “I wanted to explore the historical context for what has made these spaces thrive as well as capture the contemporary face of this layered craft.”

Combining the techniques of GIF with the content of the unique razor-sharp precision of the barber’s skilful occupation has certainly proven itself remarkable. Using a refreshing blue-black palette, giving the scene a certain melancholy, the pictures capture the personality of these barbers and minuscule details become beautifully evident. We feel like we’re watching a scene from a movie over and over again, drawing us into its charm as well as its importance.

Brandon collaborated with professor Quincy T. Mills to produce an accompanying essay as an introduction to Tapered Throne. His tender insights bring us to an often overlooked aspect of black culture, and to the heart of an industry that thrives upon the special relationships that barbers sustain with their clients, sometimes spanning generations. He concludes with the notion of perpetual change, relating it back to the GIF image as one which rejects stasis in favour of motion and repetition.

“It was a beautiful experience,” Brandon affirms.

We couldn’t help wanting to find out more, so we caught up with Brandon for a chat:

The Plus: What’s your primary artistic field and how did you get interested in GIFs?
Brandon Tauszik:
I’ve worked with video professionally for many years, directing commercial work, music videos and such. Film making is a fantastic medium, but I’ve always had a deeper visceral draw to photography. In between the two there exists what I believe to be a critically underutilized medium, that of the GIF. When the GIF had a big comeback some years ago in the form of playful one-liners sourced from movies and YouTube memes, all I could think about was the potential to create live action content intended for the format from inception.

TP: Is this why you chose the GIF as the medium for Tapered Throne?
Yes, when I was approaching the subject of black barbershops here in Oakland, I didn’t want to produce a straight documentary, but I was feeling a bit bored with static photography. In these barber shops there is a lot of idle time; the pace is slow, and motion is focused and repetitive. The clippers move up and down. Sunlight reflects off a passing car. A barber breathes calmly, patiently waiting for a new client. I saw these environments as ideal for capturing subtle loops.

TP: How was your collaboration with Quincy T. Mills, and how did you meet him?
Quincy authored a remarkably in-depth book called Cutting Along the Color Line, in which he chronicles the inception and history of the black barbershop in America. It only made sense that I approach him to write the project essay for Tapered Throne. After we discussed my work and intentions over the phone, he kindly obliged.

TP: What inspired the project in the first instance?
My curiosity was piqued after observing a total lack of corporately-owned barbershops here in Oakland. America is notoriously full of corporatized variations on independently owned businesses. You name it – we’ve replicated it, cheapened the process and scaled large, only there are none here in Oakland. I was curious as to why their long reach hadn’t expanded here. These first shops happened to be what you would define as black barbershops, with all African American staff and clientele. They informed me how it’s a completely different art to cut straight hair with scissors, versus kinky hair with an electric razor.

TP: What was the atmosphere like in those barber shops?
I was fascinated by the comfortable racial separation these spaces foster, creating environments that are intimate and exclusive.

TP: How has this reshaped the perceptions you previously held?
I’m somewhat of a shy person, so I was very apprehensive at first to visit these spaces. As a white guy I was very out of my element, breaking a kind of social boundary. But that’s what intrigued me and challenged me to battle my preconceived notions of people and place.