Slowly Getting There- The Pandemic Impact on Barbershops

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Nick Motta, a barber at Flawless Cutz in Fall River, Massachusetts cuts a clients hair during the COVID-19 Pandemic.

15 months after limitations caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, life is beginning to feel closer to normal. Barbers across the Southcoast welcome news that Massachusetts vaccinations are increasing, positive COVID-19 infections are decreasing, and all restrictions have been lifted.

While COVID-19 impacted many industries, a lesser reported industry suffered the brunt of preventative restrictions; barbershops and salons. Early in the pandemic, barbershops across New England shuttered their doors. Barbers endured layoffs, loss of revenue, and unemployment benefits. Barbershops opened in the early summer of 2020, but with heavy restrictions and reduced population. Barbershop owners had to retrofit their spaces to adhere to current CDC guidelines and limit how many people they serve.

Nick Motta, barber at Flawless Cutz in Fall River, Massachusetts cuts a client's hair.
Flawless Cuts Barbers Mark Silvera and Nick Motta welcome the reduction of Massachusett’s COVID-19 restrictions. The prior COVID-19restrictions limited the scope of barbers and impacted the financial wellbeing of the barber industry.

Many men gave up haircuts ultimately during the pandemic, and there are many more long-haired men than before March 2020.

With the restrictions lifting completely, barbershops are now opening their doors and welcoming the masses. However, people are still reluctant to get their haircut, and barbershops struggle. I visited Flawless Cutz, a barbershop in Fall River, Massachusetts, to see how barbers were doing and how the effects of the pandemic have lingered.

A reflection of a barber cutting a client's hair in Fall River, Massachusetts.
While COVID-19 had many impacts, many barbers left the profession altogether. Nick Motta, a 26-year-old barber, is seen in the reflection of an empty barber chair. This year is Nick’s third year of barbering. He completed his barbering license in the summer of 2019 and immediately saw impacts by the restrictions in 2020.

“It’s slowly getting there,” Mark Silva, owner of Flawless Cutz, says. “We’ve seen increased numbers, but it’s not where we once were.” Nick Motta, the barber, tells me barbering has been challenging but welcomes the steady stream of customers.

Clippers trim the hair of a man at Flawless Cutz, in Fall River, Massachusetts.
After three months of being closed, on May 25, 2020, Massachusetts opened up Barbershops with strict limitations. Barbershops could function on an appointment-only basis, at 25% capacity, and customers needed to wear masks at all times. Barbershops also had to conduct contract tracing, install plastic dividers, and were restricted from beard and mustache work.

During my one-hour visit, it felt like COVID-19 was a thing of the past. Nick serviced two customers. Mark also had two customers, and two other barbers had a stream of customers. It was a busy place, and people are becoming more comfortable with visiting barbershops.

Nick Motta focuses on his client's hair while working in a Southcoast Barbershop
For Nick Motta, the shutdown was challenging. His income became nonexistent, and his livelihood threatened. He resorted to reluctantly collecting unemployment benefits and desperately waited for restrictions to lift. He shares a story of how some barbers operated underground, cutting people’s hair in basements and garages, but didn’t choose that path as he didn’t wait to jeopardize his new license.

My Photography Process

I’ve been practicing photojournalism since the fall of 2006 when I started shooting television news at WJAR-TV in Providence, Rhode Island. My photography style embraces the pure nature of photojournalism—a little editing, no staging, and capturing moments organically. My method can break down into four tenets.

  1. Be a fly on the wall. Photojournalists across the globe attempt to become invisible. This allows organic moments to happen without prompting from the photographer. I have never felt comfortable staging images and always wanted my imagery to be captured as genuinely as possible. I don’t even bring external flashes to shoots, as they add something artificial to the story.
  2. Find the image that tells the story. I remember my mentor Greg Monte, chief photographer of WPRI News, tell me, “You have to seek the one image that tells the whole story.” Since then, I always approach photography with this in mind. I’m constantly seeking the image that evokes emotion from an audience.
  3. Position yourself in the story. I am not one of those photojournalists that rely on a long zoom lens, shooting from great distances. Instead, I’m a fixed lens photographer, meaning I only use the lens that does not zoom. So, inherently, I need to position myself rather close to the subjects I’m capturing. This gives a sense of realism because my images come directly from the action instead of a distance away.
  4. Accept the Flaws. However, shooting in this manner also means that sometimes my images will be softer or have focusing issues when shooting with extremely shallow depth of fields. I tend to accept those flaws, as I feel like it adds to the genuine nature of my images. On the other hand, if the technical images were too perfectly constructed, I feel like people would assume I staged the images altogether.
A young customer waits his turn at Flawless Cutz in Fall River, Massachusetts.
On May 29, 2021, Governor Charlie Baker lifted all restrictions for barbershops and salons. Since the announcement, the business has returned to almost normal levels. Flawless Cutz Mark Silvera and Nick Motta exchange fun stories as a young Fall River teen waits his turn for a haircut.

Behind the Scenes

This shoot was certainly fun and insightful. The theme for this photo essay was to examine the effects of the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions and seeing an industry rebound from near catastrophe. I limited myself to one hour and shot this essay on Friday evening. Armed with a Canon 5D Mark IV, a Rokinon 24MM 1.8 Cine Lens, a Canon L Series 1.4 50mm prime lens, and a Canon L series 1.4 85mm prime lens, my images were ready to be taken.

Markie Silvera, owner of Flawless Cutz, cuts a customer's hair in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Mark Silvera opened Flawless Cutz on Plymouth Ave. in Fall River, Massachusetts, in 2008. Since reopening, he’s opened a second location in Somerset, Massachusetts. He employs close to 20 barbers.

When I first arrive on a shoot, I don’t shoot much. Instead, I take a mental inventory of what’s going on, who my subjects are, and the lighting conditions, and try to build a human connection first. Once people are comfortable, I will begin taking images. I’ve never been one of those photographers who shoot thousands of pictures in a small amount of time. Instead, I seek to capture quality vs. quantity. My practice strives to be thoughtful and with intention.

Nick Motta, a Fall River Barber, trims the goatee of a customer.
In the 40 minutes that Nick spends on his clients, he playfully talks about sports, cars, and work. For example, his client asks him to be referred to as “Andy Dalton,” quarterback for the Chicago Bears, due to his uncanny resemblance.

Often, I find myself posting up, composing an image, and waiting for the action to fall into the frame. I sometimes feel like a hunter, setting traps for my subjects to fall into. I’m also a fan of shooting in high burst frame rates to capture the exact frame that best tells that story, and I frequently change the lens to give me different perspectives.

Nick Motta counts his profits from the day after cutting hair in Fall River, Massachusetts.
A photo of Nick Motta’s daughter looms over Nick as he takes a break to reorganize the profits of the day’s work.

Within an hour, I captured 127 images. All images were shot in Canon RAW and then later processed in Adobe Photoshop. While editing photos, I do not take anything out or insert anything. Some photographers wouldn’t bat an eye to removing pimples, blemishes, or facial scars. That’s not me. Instead, I need my images to be as genuine as possible.

Flawless Cutz
Despite the lifting of COVID-19 restrictions, Flawless Cutz still demands perfection from its barbers. A sign constantly reminds barbers that clients need to leave the barbershop flawless.
Nick Motta and Mark Silvera exchange a laugh while cutting client's hair in Fall River, Massachusetts.
Nick Motta became Mark Silvera’s apprentice early in 2019. Mark mentored Nick to become a licensed barber and rented a chair immediately afterward. For Nick, barbering has become a dream job.

When editing, I’m aware of not over-processing the images and simply tweaking exposure and saturation levels and cropping the image. On a few occasions, depending on the nature of the shoot, I’ll add a slight color grade to enhance the colors captured by the camera but never altered to remove the colors out of context altogether.

Wrapping Up

This photo essay energized me for two reasons, it made me reminiscent of my news photography days, and it gave me hope that the COVID-19 pandemic is becoming a thing of the past and normalcy returns.

If you need a top-notch barber, I would highly recommend booking with Nick and Mark at Flawless Cutz, 774 Plymouth Ave. Fall River, Massachusetts.

About the Author
About the Author

Drew Furtado is an Emmy Award winning filmmaker, and leader of a nationally recognized high school media arts communication department .

He develops guides and strategies for nonprofit and educational organizations to improve and grow their social media presence, website development, and communication practices that best engages audiences.

New Bedford, Massachusetts

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