Tuesday, November 8th, 2011
Photographer Richard Nicholson wanted to document East London’s vibrant haircut subculture, but he needed a way to get his foot in the door. So, to borrow a barber’s term, he decided to blend in. He made himself a fixture at Ali’s, a barbershop run by two Pakistani brothers in their late 20s. “I spent six weeks in the barbershop, sat on the bench, reading a newspaper, and waiting for the most interesting haircuts,” Nicholson says. “I became part of the furniture.”
“In general, my subject is a second generation Bangladeshi, 16 years old, studying at college, or working in retail. He wears a McKenzie hoodie, Adidas trainers, and jewelry from Argos. He listens to Akon, Jay Sean, and Lil Wayne, and his ambition is to start his own business and make a lot of money.”
Many of Ali’s clients stop in weekly, visiting the shop to make sure their particular style is as fresh as possible. Jabedul Islam (stage name: Mirakool) is one such customer. “Maintaining my look is important,” he says. “It’s almost like a signature hairstyle for me. I’m a musician, and a lot of people recognize me by my hair.” For Jamil Trofder, getting a wild haircut is just something he’s done his whole life. “I think it’s just become a part of me,” he says. “I feel real uncomfortable if I don’t.”
According to owner/stylist Qasim Ali, the drive for uniqueness and individuality brings most of the business in. Though some come with specific ideas, most customers trust in the stylists’ abilities to freestyle — a type of client we can all appreciate.