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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.