A Little Piece of LA in Saigon

Visiting a barber shop with a difference.

A few weeks ago I was on Facebook just looking through some posts when I saw someone looking to find a barber in Saigon who could give their kid a certain type of haircut. A tight fade with some sort of design shaved in.

These types of cuts are getting more and more popular with young Vietnamese, as well as tattoos, and that tattoo/hip hop style.

One of the responses to the post was a link to a barber located in District 3, Liem’s Barber Shop. Taking one look at their facebook page I knew I had to get in touch and get out there to shoot.

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Situated down a small alley about ten minutes from the main tourist area of Saigon, Liem’s is certainly the most unique barber shop I have seen here in HCMC. Pictures of the staff, heavily tattooed and influenced by the LA/Mexican/Chicano style, cover the walls. Stickers for various different underground artists, clothing brands and collectives cover the tables and there’s even a massive bull skull hanging over one chair.

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Liem

Walking in I was quickly greeted by Liem, his own head piece just three days old as he shook my hand and asked me if I could wait ten minutes while he finished up his client. She was having some isometric designs shaved into her undercut.

do81iawTaking a seat I quickly realized I was the only foreigner in the place. Even after four years here in Saigon it’s still easy to feel out of place when you’re the only foreign guy in the room. Especially when everyone in the place is tattooed from head to toe, including facial tattoos.

altoubrHaving tattoos myself (including a full sleeve/chest piece) it’s still a bit intimidating when someone with their face tattooed stares at you.

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Clippers Tattoo, that’s dedication.

Once Liem was done with his client he took me out into the small garden area he has in the shop where I explained my style of shooting and what I was wanting to do and he was all for it. An incredibly friendly and welcoming guy, he even told me I was ‘lucky,’ after I correctly guessed how many iguanas he has in his garden. The answer is five for those who are curious.

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Hulk Smash!!!

I asked how his neighbors felt about the shop and the fact that he and his staff were so heavily tattooed. Tattoos are still taboo in Vietnam. Although becoming more popular and mainstream (lots of women sport small wrist tattoos or ones behind their ears for example) the larger pieces, like sleeve and chest pieces, are still associated for many with the ‘mafia.’

zppsezkLiem explained to me that this little alley and area was sort of an underground collective, comprising of the barber shop, a tattoo shop and some clothing places selling imported hats and such. He and his neighbors were close and good friends.

gsnhjlbSo I spent about an hour and a half, two hours in the shop that afternoon, shooting the barbers, their clients and the shop itself. I’m usually a pretty shy, quiet shooter and so it was slow going at first, mostly detail shots, but by the end I was happy enough to stick my camera in people’s faces for some macro portraits (macro portraits with the Ricoh are so sharp you’d swear you might cut yourself on them. This is an amazing little camera.)

hnksskzSo this was not a one off. I plan to go back regularly, visit the shop, get to know the guys a little better and who knows, it could turn into a series, possibly of portraits. Portraits of these young Vietnamese carving out their own little underground niche in a city and country which is slowly becoming more open to the expression and style of the younger generations.

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Liem having his head shaved, just three days after getting the line work done on his head piece. Ouch.
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