Brandon Tauszik hails from the moors of northern England, where one can trace his roots back through many generations of noble serfs. Amid adolescence Brandon was relocated to the United States to continue education and impress schoolmates with his novel accent. Upon vindication from the halls of academy in Florida, Brandon continued further education between venturesome crusades across the European continent. These solitary voyages found Brandon as far east as Kiev and Istanbul practicing the art of photojournalism whilst procuring purposeful employment as a videographer in Spain and The Netherlands. For two years Brandon then whiled away his hours in the Art & Film department at Invisible Children, a media based non-profit organization. Currently Brandon resides in the Bay Area where he directs commercials and music videos at Sprinkle Lab while pursuing personal photography projects. Today we share with you an interview, and his series, Tapered Throne.
AB: How did you first become interested in the barbershop environment and when did you decide that you wanted to create from it. Did you start going to these barber shops to get your hair cut first and then began the photos? Or vice versa?
BT: It started from simply observing a total lack of corporately-owned barbershops here in Oakland where I live. America is notoriously full of corporatized variations on independently owned businesses; places to buy groceries, sandwiches and coffee, tools and hardware. You name it – we’ve replicated it, cheapened the process, and scaled large. Fantastic Sams, Supercuts, and Great Clips are America’s barber shop chains, but there are none here in Oakland. I was curious as to why their long reach hadn’t expanded here.
I began paying visits to some of the barbershops in my neighborhood, shooting and spending time speaking with the barbers there. 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.
I was fascinated by the comfortable racial separation these spaces foster, creating environments that are intimate and exclusive. I wanted to explore the historical context for what has made these spaces thrive as well as capture the contemporary face of this kind of ‘ambidextrous’ craft.
AB: Can you explain to us a little bit about your process of deciding on the format? At what point did you decide that these looping videos were the best way to present this work?
BT: On the day to day I’m working equally with filmmaking and photography. I co-founded the video production company Sprinkle Lab, where I get to develop creatively within that medium. Then I’m creating work with photography in tandem, flip flopping my time between the two. Each medium has its own particular offerings, and I appreciate working with them both. However I feel that between the two (and borrowing aspects of both) exists the loop, which is most often manifested online via the GIF. You get the spotlight aspect of a photograph but you’re able to spend time within the moment as the same sliver of time passes on infinite repeat.
This internal curiosity came about in 2011 right before I started shooting at some of the black barbershops in my neighborhood, which themselves are relatively static environments, conducive to subtle looping motion. So I decided I would try to make the work using only GIFs from the get-go and see if it would work out.
AB: Why did you decide to dedicate an entire site for housing it?
BT: More and more of my work is living primarily online, distributed to new viewers through some amazing outlets (like Aint-Bad!) and enjoying an unlimited shelf life.
That being the case, I wanted to be more intentional in thinking about how to display the work online, not just on a ‘one size fits all’ portfolio page. To me, creating this stand alone site for the project with it’s own design and functionality is akin to designing a book for the work. I was lucky to have my friend Tonia help build out the site.
AB: What role does audio play in this project?
BT: These barber shops are relatively sparse places, unassuming, not incredibly visual. But to be a fly on the wall and listen, that’s everything. I wanted to give the viewer that intimate experience of sitting there in the waiting chair, taking it all in.
The project is primarily portraits, but environmental scenes break it up here and there. Being able to completely tailor the viewer’s experience via the website, I felt like sitting on those scenes and listening could help contextualize the environments in a deeper way.
AB: How many shops have you visited while shooting this series, and how long has it been underway?
BT: I visited around 20 shops over the course of 4 years. A lot of time was spent editing the GIFs and figuring out the exact direction of the project. I was actually robbed at gunpoint of all my gear on my way home from one shop in 2013 and didn’t shoot at another one for quite a while.
AB: What do the barbers think of this work, and what kind of relationships have you fostered while working on this project?
BT: I would always return a week after shooting at a shop to give the barbers prints and say thanks. Now that the project is done I’ve been able to return again to most of the shops, show them how it all turned out. I don’t think most of the barbers were expecting me to make anything more than a newspaper-style photo grouping. A lot of them had actually been shown the finished work from one of their customers before I had the chance to start going back for visits this year. One of the barbers said a customer printed out the website on a bunch of paper and brought it in for him to see.
Overall they seem to really like it, they’re proud to see their humble craft shown outside of their own community. One barber is still borrowing my Quincy T. Mills book so I should go swing by again.
AB: The bios and quotes included indicate a closeness and a real discussion being led with your subjects. How did these disclosures come about?
BT: Most of my visits to the barbers were just unannounced stop-ins. After shooting at a few shops, I printed out 4×6 prints of the guys I had already met and showed those to the barbers at the next shop. It’s a relatively niche industry here, just a couple of barber colleges that most of the men went to. That gave me a level of approval and trust that helped to break down the obvious social barber.
I would just spend time between cuts with an audio recorder, conversing informally. At the beginning of the project I was kind of just fishing for content, but towards the end I was able to focus in on the material I wanted.
AB: Is this a continuous series that you plan on pursuing in the future?
BT: Oakland’s culture is changing incredibly fast due to a relentless wave of new residents escaping sky-high rents in neighboring San Francisco. It might be worthy to do a follow up in ten years and see what these neighborhoods are like then; already some of these shops have closed their doors. But to answer your question, no I’d say this project is done for the time being.
To view this series with audio and bios in its entirety (and we HIGHLY recommend that you do) visit the project site. To see more of Brandon’s work, visit his website.