Cuts and culture. Capturing the spirit of the American barbershop

Here at Cremo Company, we had the distinct pleasure of working with photographer, Rob Hammer. A friendly, easy-going gentleman, a supremely talented madman behind the lens. The project was to shoot our 1948 Spartan Trailer, which we transformed into a Barbershop on Wheels. The plan was to drive it up down the Pacific Coast in the San Diego area, periodically stopping at a variety of picturesque locations Rob had previously scouted out. What a journey it was.

A few shots from the day

The images captured on this adventurous day are, as expected, gorgeous and captivating. And we have the Instagram likes to prove it. They are the go-to shots for Cremo’s marketing materials. We’ve got prints hanging in the office, and we even have framed prints hanging in our homes.

Cremo Barbershop on Wheels Cremo Barbershop on Wheels Cremo Barbershop on Wheels

Who is Rob Hammer?

But what originally drew us to Rob? Well, for starters, his portfolio is simply breathtaking. But what really sealed the deal was his genuine love for the barbershop culture and his moving, 8-year personal journey to honor it. He created the internationally-celebrated book, “Barbershops of America: Then and Now.” A must for any coffee table, it’s filled with awe-inspiring images of vintage and modern barbershops from every state in the country. We highly suggest you order a copy, your eyes will thank you.

Check out Rob's website HERE

Below, is the story behind this masterpiece, written by Rob himself.

Whether it registered or not, my fondness for barbershops started at an early age. And the thing that first got me was the constant circle of humor. A tangible vibe that hits right as you walk in the door. Then as I got older it started to become clear how special these places really are. Not just a place filled with humor, but also a staple in every community. A place you can count on. A place to meet with friends, relax, and forget about whatever else is going on. As I started traveling it struck me that traditional shops were becoming harder and harder to find. Barbers were dying, retiring, or their landlords were kicking them out to make way for a higher paying tenant. That was really sad to me. These old barbers and their shops are, in my opinion, an irreplaceable piece of American culture. There is no way to duplicate something that grew within and around a community for 50+ years. So I took it upon myself to begin documenting these old shops. At first it was just the local shops around San Diego, but the results left me unsatisfied. They weren’t the like shops I grew up going to in Up-state New York. So the search expanded into southern California with slightly better results. Still though, not what I had in mind. So the travels went out into Arizona and New Mexico. Finally things started to take shape. In these places I began to find barbers who made their entire career cutting in one building. And you could just feel the history inside and on the walls. Establishments that have seen 3 generations of family members. Guys went in for their first cuts, grew up and brought their kids in to get cut by the same barber. Then in time, those kids had kids of their own, and brought them to the same place and sat in the same chair to get their hair cut by the same barber their grandfather met 60 years ago.

Rob Hammer Barbershop Shoot

The longer the project went on, the more it became a part of me, and I knew it wouldn’t be complete unless I documented shops in all 50 states. My first trip was in 2012, I’ve been exploring ever since. At one point or another, the counting stopped, but I figure the total mileage is somewhere slightly north of 200,000. And on almost every trip, my dog Mojo has been the co-pilot. To date, he’s got 45+/- states under his belt and has stayed in more hotels than most people I know. Collectively this has been one of the greatest experiences of my life for a lot of reasons. Just spending that much time on the road with him makes me feel very lucky, and I think everyone should do something similar. Meeting the barbers is something different altogether. Seeing how they live and being part of their world, even for a brief amount of time, is a priceless experience. It has taught me so much about the country and opened my eyes to how differently people live in it. Most of all though, it reinforced the thought that barbers and their beautiful shops are an integral part of every community. Unfortunately, they are quickly disappearing, one by one. In fact, a lot of the old timers featured in the book have passed away. Which is really sad, but I’m also extremely proud to be able to preserve their legacy in photographs.

Rob Hammer Barbershop Shoot

The project has evolved quite a bit since 2012. At first the focus was strictly on the old timers, but a few years into it, things in the industry began changing drastically. The “barber boom” was born. These days, it seems like you can find a barbershop on just about every corner in every town in every state. Most of the shops, in my opinion, aren’t worth much. Filled with a bunch of guys just trying to make a quick buck. Then there are the guys doing everything right. Carrying on the old traditions while also adding a modern twist. Their shops don’t look like the old ones, and just about every barber nowadays is covered in tattoos, but the intention is the same. And you can feel their pride when you walk in. You know they are doing it for the right reasons. Once I started seeing these new shops, the focus shifted to show the beautiful contrast between the old timers and the “next generation” of traditional barbers. And what came out of it is exactly that, a book half filled with shops that are soon to be gone, and the other half documenting the industry’s vibrant future.

Rob Hammer Barbershop Shoot

This project doesn’t seem to be something I can stop doing. After publishing two books, I never said it was over, but also never made a conscious effort to keep going. It all just happened on its own. The road trips certainly haven’t stopped, and I always seem to find myself sniffing out small town shops all along the way. All of this has led to amazing things that I’m very grateful for. Friendships, a vast network of great people who welcome me all over the country, and a list of clients that has organically grown because we share the same interests. As for the future, there is another book coming out in the spring of 2020. Moving forward, I’d love to take this project overseas. The barbershop culture in foreign countries is so beautiful -- it deserves to be documented. Mojo, let’s roll.