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Brandon Tauszik’s Tapered Throne
“This is one of the necessities that's hands on, you can't get no haircut on the internet. Here we call people by name” – Dave, All About BusinessPhotography Brandon Tauszik

Celebrating the barbershop as a pillar of black communities

In a city of chronic violent crime and racial tension, photographer Brandon Tauszik documents the importance of African American barbershops with his looping images

Cornerstones of black communities, the African American barbers of Oakland occupy a respected place within the west coast city’s neighbourhoods. As local institutions, they stand for something much more than the tapers, sideburns and fades that they shape, shave or tighten. For a city steeped in a history of black empowerment – home to the grassroots Black Panther Party – yet forever suffering violent crime and intercultural tension, the barbershops represent a notable level of social and economic stability, not to mention cultural pride. As Oakland-based photographer and filmmaker Brandon Tauszik discovered during his four-year documentary project, Tapered Throne, their shops are vital meeting points “serving as conduits of culture and conversation in a precarious time.”

A contemplative series of black and white GIFs with its own dedicated website, Tapered Throne, is the result of Tauszik’s multiple video-recorded visits to barbershops across Oakland. “Initially I would walk by these shops in my neighbourhood everyday without ever entering, without even feeling that I could enter”, he recollects. “I was attracted to this tension”. Despite once or twice being suspected for “an undercover cop”, before long that tension had dissipated and Tauszik was welcomed by barbers “with open arms”. The haircuts, conversations, loitering and manly bravado that he eventually captured, contribute to a collection of looping moving images that, he stresses, “is really about identity.”

“You can come here in this mothafucka' and be who you really are. Because out there in society, you can't be too black out there” – Yay (Room to Groom, Oakland)

From the moment that African Americans were allowed to set up their own businesses – rather than being constricted to serving white customers – barbershops, Tauszik explains, “had a natural influence on the black male aesthetic”. The quotes from recorded conversations that he selected to caption his GIFs underscore such cultural significances of these black barbering establishments. As one customer proclaims, “You can come here in this mothafucka’ and be who you really are. Because out there in society, you can’t be too black”. 

Of course, recent events testify that America is still deeply conflicted when it comes to perceptions of people of colour. Tapered Throne confronts these biases through the medium of GIFs – ones that will shatter any association with buzzfeed trivia. The steady, cyclical movements of razors shaving, heads twisting and clippers rising speak of the long-lasting importance of black barbershops. As Quincy T. Mills, Professor of Africana Studies, states in the introductory essay accompanying the online series, “Like the GIF images themselves, these men and their shops are not static.” Or, in other words, they cannot be reduced to society’s narrow constructs.

Tauszik’s GIFs can also be viewed with audio on the Tapered Throne website, accompanied by a short essay by Quincy T. Mills