South African Township Barbershops

Erik Falkensteen 1971

South Africa’s townships have long been rich sources of legendary music and culture, in his book “South African Township Barbershops & Salons” the British photographer Simon Weller explores these shops and the proprietors that take great pride in designing their businesses which function as much more than a place to get a haircut.

There is a tradition of sign painting and with the help of revered South African designer and book contributor Garth Walker, they show the effort put into personalizing salons, from the homemade graphics to a signature style of cut.  From “Judgment Day” to “Boys II Men” salons and those tucked behind the doors of shipping containers, Weller’s bright portraits sheds light on a rarely-seen side of the country, a testament to the hopeful spirit that remains in these communities even as they continue to suffer the effects of apartheid.  Interviews with store owners, sign makers and customers help flesh out the story, positioning the spaces as not just salons and barber shops, but as community centers for socializing, gossip, networking and other connection-making.

Simon Weller

Barbershops and salons often serve as the community hubs of South African townships, known locally as “informal barbershops,” these establishments attract customers with sharp and snappy vernacular designs.  In South African Township Barbershops & Salons, Simon Weller presents vivid photographs of signage, shops and their patrons alongside interviews with the proprietors, customers and sign makers. This honest and intimate portrayal of these small businesses challenges preconceptions, gives voice to township residents and reveals and undeniable aspect of South African culture.

Simon Weller

On the streets Africa, from Cape Town to Kinshasa, from Lagos to Mombasa, the true measure of fame is having a haircut named after you on a barbershop sign.  Barbershop signage is an African art form or African graphic art with its naïve renderings and pragmatic use of wood, metal and any material that is close at hand.  To celebrate the Confederation’s Cup being played for the first time on African soil, Adidas commissioned a series of ‘barbershop’ artworks that honour their galaxy of stars like Gerrard, Messi, Kaka and Pienaar.  A ‘cut’ was created for each player according to their skill. So, ‘The Kaka’ is all about dribbling skills while ‘The Gerrard’ is about powerful strikes.