CNN Photos

A trip to Harlem barbershops

For months, on her way to the laundry mat, Melissa Kirschenheiter passed a barbershop in New York’s Harlem area. She noticed barbers and customers drinking beer and listening to music and was intrigued.

“It felt like a dance club,” Kirschenheiter said. “It did not feel like a barbershop.”

After asking permission to photograph the shop and its clients, Kirschenheiter began a two-year project, visiting that shop and others for half-hour increments on Friday and Saturday night.

At first they were hesitant to let her in the door, but after her first visit, she returned to show them photographs she made. They were pleased and welcomed her, and she felt like she formed friendships with many of the regulars.

The barbershop’s culture was different from what Kirschenheiter was used to. At the five places she visited, a haircut typically took around 30 to 40 minutes, with a long wait to be next in the chair. Hairdressers talked on their cell phones during the cut or took a break to eat dinner, she said.

“It felt like an event over a necessity,” Kirschenheiter said. “They’re there to hang out and have a good time.” No one seems to be in a hurry. She even met a guy who had moved to the East Side and came back to the West Side to say hi to everyone.

It’s a community, she said.

Kirschenheiter initially became interested in fashion photography, but for the past few years has taken a documentary approach.

“I love people, I love meeting new people, I love seeing and experiencing new things,” she said. Her goal is to document everyday routines and reveal them to people who aren’t familiar with them.

- Elizabeth I. Johnson, CNN