Grady's Reviews > South African Township Barbershops & Salons

South African Township Barbershops & Salons by Simon Weller
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May 03, 11


The Majesty of Simplicity and Honesty

Simon Weller is a graphic designer and a freelance photographer - a fine combination of skills for such a book as SOUTH AFRICAN TOWNSHIP BARBERSHOPS & SALONS. Weller travels the globe for such prestigious employers as Getty Images, etc but this book is a 2009 expedition to South Africa, and to gather a microcosm of similar businesses (and art) within one country he has focused on those little places where real life talk happens spontaneously - the barbershops and salons. He visited Johannesburg, Durban, Cape Town and rural townships, finding the little homemade shops down alleys and minor streets - shops often built by and definitely designed by the 'entrepreneur' owners.

What results is a book full of photographs of these bastions of business that are usually tiny huts decorated with paintings and collage and photographs and wonderfully entertaining names - places where men and women alike can have their hair cut, styled, ironed, woven, braided, etc. Weller is obviously a gregarious artist as he is able to strike up conversations with the owners and with customers and from this illustrated information we learn much about the varying areas of South Africa, how the globe is viewed, how the townships are viewed, and a good bit of heady gossip that matches the brilliance of the photographs. Along the way Weller employs local guides and the conversations he gathers form them add to the special aura of the differences - and the pride - of the shops. He pauses in The Hollywood Barbershop where he photographs Lucky the barber and owner, takes his time in the 3 Sisters Hair Salon in Khayelitsha to document the process of hairbraiding, and he interviews people such as South African designer Garth Walker who puts all of Weller's explorations into context.

From this beautifully designed book we not only find entertainment, but we also learn a great deal about the grassroots level of philosophy and political acumen that continues to make South Africa a country that fascinates.

Grady Harp
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