MW Grooming Special: The Saloon Photo Project
While urban men might be moving into plush saloons in our cities, discussing fades, undercuts and gold facials, a major chunk of real India still goes to saloons every week. Saloons are safe spaces for the male ego, where men give in to their vanities — something that has always been wrongfully assumed to be a female preoccupation — and go through a wide array of facials, treatments, and hairstyles. These are spaces where men can walk in, drop their shirts and unabashedly get their armpits and backs shaved, and then linger around, dipping into cricket scores, pocket politics and casual conversations. Saloons — shack, roadside or shop — are an integral part of Indian masculinity and so, we asked four photographers to capture snippets of saloons from four Indian metropolises.
PHOTOGRAPHER – MAHESH NAIR
I shot this on a weekend, when the saloons are flooded with customers. As noisy as it may be, there is some sort of structure and system set in place in saloons like these. They don’t need to be spoken about or written on boards, but is just understood by everyone. The men waiting for their turn, look breezy and careless, but mind you, they were extremely cautious of others taking their turn and keep a strict eye out for cutsies. With kids, I realized that every one of them has a different perspective of barbers. While some fear their sharp blades, some seem comfortable enough to not even pay attention.
PHOTOGRAPHER – ANIMESH MANDAL
The concept of space is foreign to the city of Mumbai. Barbers with skills but no space to practice their craft, manage in a small corner of the footpath with tarpaulin roofs and plywood walls. The barber I shot told me about how he quit his job from an air-conditioned saloon to work for himself. He shared that he had aspirations to own and open his very own airconditioned saloon one day. A man getting his back massage after a haircut stayed deeply engrossed in a deep conversation about the stock market with a fellow customer.
PHOTOGRAPHER – ROSHAN SIDDHARTH RAMANEE
After a long search in the residential part of Chennai, I spotted this Saloon, tucked away in a corner, thanks to its old handpainted board. The owner/barber was apprehensive about me taking pictures at first, but later gave in and even enjoyed posing for some shots. It seems like, once a man enters a barbershop, a switch of narcissism turns on inside, and they just can’t stop admiring themselves. The experience of capturing something like this made me realize how charming this old world was. It also taught me that style depends on how one saw and carried oneself.
PHOTOGRAPHER – KARTIK BHATT
The pictures I’ve taken showcase roadside barbershops and a small one-room saloon. One particular barbershop was located under a large tree, providing a natural cover from the blistering heat. It’s run by an old man and is located next to a pan shop. In the small one-room saloon, I noticed that the barber didn’t really bother about the state or size of his shop. He was also unfazed by the camera and stayed focused on the task at hand.