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Chavosos by Jeff
Kelvyn, hair by Wesley Fernandes IIPhotography Jeff

In pictures: the artistic hairstyles of São Paulo’s young men

Photographer Jeff’s Chavosos project captures moments of self-expression and creativity in the barbershops of Brazil’s São Paulo

“Going to the barbershop here is sometimes compared to going to a therapy session,” says the Brazilian photographer who goes by just Jeff. For the last few years, Jeff has been documenting the hairstyles of barbershops around São Paulo, capturing the fades and patterned shaves of the young men who pass through the chairs of local barbers like Wesley Fernandes and Tele Barber. For Jeff, photographing these small moments of self-care and self-expression helps create an understanding of the meaning behind a culture so focused on appearance. “I don’t want to diminish the importance of a psychologist, but self-esteem is very important here and having the right hair style and shave contributes a lot to many young people.”

Born in Votorantim, now based in Sorocaba, Jeff’s first experiences with a camera came when he began documenting church events as a teenager with a Sony Cybershot borrowed from a cousin’s father (“at the time, that camera was the best technology we had”). Afterwards he would take the camera down to a supermarket in the city with an automatic printing machine and then display the photographs on a wall at the church. “It was cool the feeling of watching the guys recognising themselves in the pictures,” he says. Years later, while studying architecture and urbanism at university he upgraded from taking pictures on his phone to a semi-professional camera and hasn’t stopped making portraits since.

The Chavosos project started in 2018 and quickly grew beyond just photographs. Within the first year, Jeff and Fernandes held workshops and talks as well as an exhibition at the contemporary art festival, Valongo Festival Internacional da Imagem. Through their work, they want to contribute to the recognition of barbers as contemporary artists, as well as challenge the assumptions some people make about certain hairstyles. “One of the objectives of shooting these images is to contribute to the dissociation of those hairstyles with marginality, questioning within art and institutional spaces the misinformation created by years of distorting the symbols and meanings behind these cuts,” says Jeff.

How did the Chavosos project start?

Jeff: The project started after I related with the work from two Brazilian photographers who are big references to me: Larissa Zaidan and Hick Duarte. I remember seeing the work they did at a barbershop in the capital, Bom de Corte, and some very insane photos came from these bros’ work. At the beginning of 2018 I thought to myself: ‘There must be someone here in the interior of the state who does a job like this’, and after launching a post on Facebook looking for barbers who had skills in cutting with drawing, I found Wesley Fernandes’ work, a 26-year-old barber, here from Sorocaba. He was the first barber to have his story and work recorded through the project. 

In 2019, me and Wesley were already inseparable and, more than partners in work, we became really great friends. In that same year, we brought some more barbers to the project, one of them was Tele Barber, one of the biggest highlights of the local scene in this area, and a reference for a whole new generation. At the end of 2021, Tele was the barber that signed one of the hairstyles of White Horse’s first advertising campaign in Brazil.

Why were you interested in taking photographs of hairstyles and barbershops in São Paulo?

Jeff: Since the beginning of my work, my interests have been focused on youth, artistic manifestations and behaviour, and besides capturing a moment, I really enjoy telling stories from those people through images. As I said before, Lari and Hick’s work really inspired me to approach the barbershops. Over time, the barbershop became a space of creation for me and my second home, the sincere connection with the barbers helped me a lot to expand my vision as a storyteller.

What is the significance of ‘chavoso’?

Wesley Fernandes: Chavoso is the slang word we use to talk about a person who is stylish, often used in the outskirts of the city. When we call the project that, it’s a way to talk about the culture of stylish hair (chavosos) from the periphery, we represent this and live it.

Jeff: Chavoso is also the new meaning of a word that used to be used to line off and marginalise specific bodies within society, distorting symbols and cultural manifestations from the Brazilian peripheries in an attempt to erase this movement. Today the word is used as a positive marker, a compliment, and represents all the artistic and behavioural expression of the style of Brazilian peripheral youth.

Tele Barber: I believe chavosos means the most pure peripheral art, its concept is inspired by the Brazilian communities, and it is expressed by our hands in the hair of our people.

How did you start working as barbers?

Tele Barber: The barbershop came into my life in a very natural and spontaneous way, I have always been very interested in artistic and manual work. Out of necessity and lack of money I started to cut my own hair; my neighbours liked it and let me do their hair, this was in 2003. Today I have a 19-year trajectory taking care of people’s hair and self-esteem.

Wesley Fernandes: I started because I kept going to get my haircut at a barbershop close to home called Stilo Afro where I stayed for hours waiting for my turn and I watched them cutting and that awakened my will to learn how to cut hair myself. So I got scissors, a razor and a cape and then I started with something I can’t see myself without, my job. Today I put my love in my art and it has been 10 years that I am in this profession.

What is the usual hair style in São Paulo? Are the hairstyles in the photographs common or do they stand out?

Tele Barber: The more common hair styles that I see here in São Paulo are lower hair cuts, with little maintenance, easier for the day-to-day rush, but the cuts we propose with the project are not common at all, they are cuts from the ‘quebrada’ [the suburbia of big cities] and sure stand out among the usual cuts.

Wesley Fernandes: The works I do in my community are not common, most of the everyday works are basic cuts, the more artistic ones are a little more expensive so create a certain resistance, which is part of the job, but whoever wants it, pays and appreciates it. The work is expensive because it takes time, dedication, good quality products and love. It is no joke! The works stand out because they are not just a haircut, but for being a work of art.

What is the significance of the barbershop in the community?

Tele Barber: In my opinion, the barbershop is one of the most important jewels of our outskirts. It is responsible for saving many lives, creating work and developing opportunities for many who – due to segregation and prejudice – are excluded from the job market. Because of this, the barbershop occupies a large part of our communities.

Wesley Fernandes: For some people the barbershop is a way to earn some money and survive, it is a job with opportunities that’s why so many Brazilians are now learning the art of cutting hair.

Do you see the project having an end or is it ongoing?

Jeff: I’ve been saying from the beginning that this is a life project. The relationship with some barbers become very close, friendships and partnerships. Every week I am in the Tele Barber to cut my hair and shave. 

During the pandemic of Covid-19 it was very hard because things changed very much. People could not meet and, at the same time, barbershops were the last to close the doors due to the confinements, a lot of them never even closed at all. And, I must say, many barbers couldn’t close their doors because they didn’t get any help from the local government, less from the national government. Things are starting to truly happen right now, with the reopening of the market and some new opportunities for the project.