Comfort zone

Even before the convenience of having a good lightweight camera always in your pocket, I was interested in taking street photos. The famous images by Helen Levitt, Henri Cartier-Bresson, Saul Leiter, Eugene Atget and many others showed me how to look at people in public with a photographer’s eye. I don’t breathe the rarefied air that these greats live in, but they have inspired me to keep a camera at hand. And among the many things that you can see in the streets of India, two things fascinate me most of all. One is the pheonomenon of pavement barbershops.

To set up shop one needs a barber’s instruments, and a chair. Of such simple things is a livelihood created. There is a trust in baring your neck to a stranger wielding a straight razor, so I like to observe the faces of the men getting a shave. And conversely, I like to observe the stress and strain in the body of the barber who takes scissors to another person’s hair.

This man caught my eye with his elaborate set up. Notice the chair and the headrest which can be set at different heights? Then there is the umbrella for protection (it was August, in the middle of the monsoon), and the drapes nicely hung over the spikes in the fence. I recall having trouble with the exposure: the light was not too good, and the umbrella created a shadow. I was happy with the final photo though, having got the tension in the barber’s body, his raised shoulders and the balance as he raised himself above the seated man’s head.

This scene caught my attention because of the deep red of the drape, the only touch of colour in the street. This was the first time I’d taken my camera out after the pandemic lockdown of 2020, and I was shocked by the lack of masks and distance between the two. It was another three months before I ventured into a hairdresser’s. So that’s one of my comfort zones, a route I take often while taking street photos. The other is another story.