This Week in New Media

by Jonathan Blaustein

It’s the beginning of October. The leaves on our Aspen trees are about to turn gold. My son, aligned with their calendar, will turn 8 the same week.

Things change, but cycles are forever.

As such, I’m happy to report that I’ve been writing for you, our faceless global audience, every Friday for 4 years. (Yes, we’re having our Anniversary.) In the beginning, I wrote short blurbs about several books each week.

It wasn’t until Thanksgiving of 2011 that I hit upon my regular style, one book each week, rambling narrative to introduce it. Then, we slowly added in the occasional field report from portfolio reviews. Along with the deep-dive interviews, that’s what we’ve done, every week for the last 4 years.

Until today.

Rob and I were recently discussing ways in which we could add in another column type. Something different. Something new.

The obvious answer popped up when I received an email from a regular reader, Brandon Tauszik, based in California. He wanted me to look at a photo project that he’d done, in the form of animated GIFs. African-American barbers shops in Oakland, to be specific.

How perfect is that? The clippers, sliding effortlessly, back and forth across a man’s head. Looping endlessly. Forever. (If you so choose.)

How 21st Century is that?

Therefore, this is the inaugural edition of our new column, “This Week in New Media,” which will appear from time to time. We’re shaking things up, because it’s fun, and it allows us to introduce you to people who are thinking seriously about new media.

Below, you’ll find a quick little Q&A with Brandon, as that’s also a new format for me. (Though my APE colleagues Heidi and Suzanne have presented Q&A style interviews for years.)

Hope you enjoy it, and don’t be afraid to let us know what you think.

1. How come you chose to focus on African-American barbers in Oakland? What led you there, as a subject matter?

I had initially observed a total lack of corporately-owned barbershops in Oakland. Having spent time living in suburban Florida, with Fantastic Sams and Supercuts galore, I was curious as to why their long reach hadn’t expanded anywhere in this particular city.

I began poking around at a few shops in my neighborhood; shooting and spending time interviewing the barbers there. These shops happened to be what you would define as black barbershops, with African American staff and clientele. I wanted to understand more about what made these socially exclusive places tick. That’s when I decided I would commit to making a portrait of Oakland’s black barbers and the various roles they assume.

2. As we all know, Marshall McLuhan is known for the phrase “The medium is the message.” Why are you choosing to express yourself in the form of animated GIFs? Is it about embedding the work in a 21st Century context?

Marshall McLuhan was the man! To me, the GIF is a relatively untapped hybrid between the mediums of film and photography. It contains the passing of time that exists in film but with the decisive moment aspect of a photograph. I suppose with “Tapered Throne” I’m testing the waters a bit to see if the medium can hold its weight.

Obviously, the GIF has gone through through a strong resurgence lately, mostly in the form of memes and frame-grab scenes from movies, TV shows, pop culture, etc. The outcome of this has seen the GIF quickly evolve into a contemporary medium of communication. Online news publications like Buzzfeed have had notable success in using GIFs in storytelling, but seemingly very few artists have grappled with using the medium in a live-action sense.

3. In the height of the Great Recession, I heard from several sources that things were really rough in Oakland. One of my wife’s friends said everyone in her neighborhood had bolted down their worldly possessions. Now, I’m hearing that the Silicon Valley-based gentrification of the Bay Area has reached Oakland, and it’s changing quickly. Do you feel like the places you’re documenting are in peril?

Oakland has seen high poverty mixed with high crime since the late ‘60s. The explosion of jobs in the Bay Area, from late ‘90s Dot-Com Boom to today’s climate has continued to provide very few opportunities for low income residents here. The city’s fabric has transformed before my eyes in these past years. Just a couple days ago Uber announced its purchase of a large historic building in downtown Oakland which will house 3000 new tech employees.

Combine the Bay Area’s explosive industry with a real shortage of market rate housing (add a heavy influx of white collar workers with cash to burn) and you end up with unprecedented displacement of long-time, lower income residents. Historically black neighborhoods are gentrifying and Oakland’s African American population is decreasing pretty fast. These spaces I’ve documented serve a particular demographic. If that demographic continues to weaken, these shops will have no choice but to close down or move elsewhere. I’ve tried to show the completed “Tapered Throne” project to all the barbers that participated; unfortunately I’ve already found shuttered storefronts where four of the shops were.

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Click Through To See The Rest Of The GIF’s

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Jonathan Blaustein

There Are 3 Comments On This Article.

  1. that is really inspirational! a thing between photo and film. haven’t seen any like this, rally great. a very subtle view into another world.