Some time ago, I trekked from my home in Brooklyn to the famed Apollo Theater in Harlem to watch the comedian Hannibal Buress perform. In the middle of his act and out of nowhere, Buress asked the crowd, “You ever think you were depressed but really you just needed a haircut?” The joke elicited mostly chuckles from the largely white audience but the black men in the room erupted in laughter.
As Buress’ joke and the response it received suggest, there’s something about a fresh haircut that can change a black man’s outlook on the world and himself. Indeed, getting a haircut is an external experience that can have a profound internal impact on a black man, and that experience extends beyond just a cut to the barbershop itself.
This is something I’ve always felt. Growing up, getting my hair cut was a weekly event that I looked forward to more than anything. My uncle Jason, my mother’s youngest brother, was a barber and is still today my reference for everything cool, stylish, and “fly.” In his chair, surrounded by members of my community, totems of our shared experience and under the hand of my uncle, I felt safe and like anything was possible. Those feelings of confidence and power only grew as I saw myself transform from “peasy-headed” to crisp, new and ready to take on the world.
Over the years, I came to understand that barbershops were more than places to get a shape-up, a shave or trim. I learned that barbershops were the only spaces in American life created where black men can speak and receive feedback about who they are, who they want to be, and what they believe to be true about the world around them.
I am engaging in a 12-city tour of America's black barbershops to document their meaning, to tell the true and untold story of one the nation’s oldest cultural institutions. This project, “You Next” is an intimate photographic exploration of the ways black barbershops operate as sites for the cultivation of black male identity and wellness.
From shooting to exhibition and publication, “You Next” will take a total of 21 months to complete. Expected work products will include but won’t be limited to a gallery exhibit and a book of photography.
When complete, “You Next” will highlight the role of black barbers as stewards of these spaces who literally have a hand in shaping identity and maintaining barbershops as physical sites for community, thought, and expression.
So, why “You Next”? In black barbershops, “you next” is said by barbers to customers to indicate that they’re on deck for a haircut. After waiting in a shop, sharing, laughing, debating, those magic words signify you are about to be transformed. It is my hope that viewers of “You Next” will see themselves in the images captured, identify with the experience and be transformed by it.
I’m crowdfunding to make this possible with all proceeds going toward travel, equipment, and the cost of producing a beautiful photo book full of images from the barbershops I visit.
You can support me and "You Next" with a contribution of as little as $20. For that support, I have great rewards ranging from custom stickers and buttons to signed prints and an original you next style poster. Cool, right?
If you ever had a haircut that changed your day, that changed your life, please give to help make "You Next" a reality.
Risks and challenges
Every creative project comes with potential risks and challenges. "You Next" is no exception. Black barbershops are very private spaces with informal membership and can be difficult for outsiders to access. Additionally, I anticipate challenges in getting some participants to open up and share their stories.
Luckily, barbershops are spaces I've been navigating my entire life. As a black man who has lived long-term in four different cities, I've had to find new barbers and create space for myself in a number of barbershops and within shop communities.
To aid this process in my reporting, I've set out to spend significant time, months even, in individual barbershops. The goal in doing so, is to build genuine relationships and earn the trust of barbers and patrons with the goal of capturing authentic private moments and stories.
Finally, toward the goal of making "You Next" an initiative barbers and their customers know, value and trust, I intend to create an online platform for the project via Instagram. It will serve as a statement of the project’s tone and intention while also fostering a community, barbers included, which will add to the project’s credibility.
Funding for the "You Next Project" is allocated in the following ways:
Photo Book Production:
Hardcover Proof Sheet: $250
Printing Price: $5500
Shipping Price: $1250
- (30 days)