When you think of Edinburgh it is likely that barbershops come to the forefront of your mind. Then again, innate ideas of masculinity do not seem to gel particularly well with clinical preening and casual gabbing. Simon Patterson’s The Edinburgh Barber Shop Quartet seeks to marry these clashing concepts together by documenting four distinct barbershops from across the city.
Hanging sparsely inside a gutted room covered in graffiti, Patterson’s “quartet” tells the story of four very different barbers, each with its own unique vibe. The exhibition features “historic chatterbox” Keith Hales’ barbers of Leith, and Benjamin’s Barber Shop, a ‘slick, New York-esque speakeasy.’ By far the two standout shops are the crude and colourful York Barbers and Veyis, a Turkish-run shop. Both of these barbers tell more of a story than the others do, and convey Patterson’s ideas most effectively. York’s is more memorably captured than the other shops, and lives up to its reputation as a full-on “man-den”, its walls shown to be generously adorned with rugby memorabilia and pictures of naked women. Veyis, situated nearby on Leith Walk, completes Patterson’s project. Different customs have clearly freed the Turks of ‘stiff-upper-lippedness’, and they are shown to be just as concerned with their own hair as they are with their customers’, endlessly staring into mirrors and preening with razors. These two shops are seen to clash ideas of masculinity more so than the others in these ways. They offer a different slant on what Patterson defines as the archaic “Scottish man”. While all are shown to have their own personality, only York’s and Veyis publicly showcase these dichotomies in a curious modern-day mix-up. Though the exhibition is certainly appealing conceptually and aesthetically, it is arguably too small in scale. A question arises: as barbers, surely their story extends beyond what is shown in their, or Patterson’s, short-lived displays? While The Edinburgh Barber Shop Quartet is distinct in its discussion of masculinity and absurdity, its story ends too abruptly.