Joe the Barber (an oldie)

He takes the paper from me with a smile. As he looks down, holding it between wrinkled fingers, his posture suddenly changes. He sinks into his chair, covers his eyes and gently starts crying.

I first met Joe Cini one afternoon after passing his shop many times on my to and from home. He opened for business in 1955 (roughly) and has done his best since then to provide shaves and cuts to men in the west part of the Junction. I was working on an idea for school and stopped in to ask if it was okay with him if I took some pictures of his shop. He said that would be fine. I arrive the next day to shoot. Joe is a real gentleman and loves to host. He offers me some coffee and I accept, unsure of what to expect. He walks towards the back of the place and a couple minutes later I hear the beep of a microwave. He comes back out to the front with a cup of hot Nescafe and some powdered milk packets. I happily mix my drink, thank him and he starts to tell me the history of the neighbourhood.

Joe’s shop is exactly what you would expect. Black and white linoleum floors, porcelain sinks with polished faucets, waist height of course. There are various bottles of solution on the long shelf that runs under the mirror. There is a small framed picture of George Chuvalo – the well known boxer who hails from the Junction. Then there are “other” pictures. Like the ones ripped out of the sports pages of Beckham and Ronaldo. Charming. There is an old barber pole, a very old pricelist on the wall and finally there are two dogs and a few cats running around. 

I have now been to the shop twice to take pictures. He has probably had three customers in that time. All regulars. In between cuts, he tells me about his brothers who also own barbershops in the city. One is only three or four blocks away at Keele. At some point they had a falling out and don’t speak as much anymore. Joe’s son is a successful stylist in Yorkville. He has a few of his tear sheets hanging in the shop. At the back, the small dimly lit kitchenette hums along and he sleeps in one the rooms upstairs. He used to own a house with his wife. 

When I first asked his permission to shoot in the shop, I had told Joe that I couldn’t pay him but instead I could give him a print from the sessions. He said that would be fine. I had seen Joe sitting in the front chair, looking out the window with the dogs at his feet. I decided to give him a photo that included the larger fluffy dog, sprawled out sleeping peacefully in the foreground. 

I ask him why he is crying. He tells me that the dog in the photo died the week before.

-J Morris