Some will pay for what others will pay to avoid): Vernacular typography and popular culture
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This paper will present a visual ethnography project that places the British hair salon within a tradition of vernacular typography which is disappearing. I will explore the relationship between material culture, social space and the street corner through the handmade and hussled together signage in these sites of urban energy.
The photographs in Kurl up n Dye focus on backstreet hair salons and the culture of these small businesses, revealing moments of creativity and playfulness. Images of shop facades present the street corner as a site where desire and fantasy are mediated by cultural capital. The aspiration behind the names Millionhairs or Shear Class are often in tension with their immediate surroundings on the edges of the city.
The shop names and typefaces signal economic status, class and taste beyond the frame of the image. The humour in the shop names is self-directed, belonging entirely to the independent salon owner – to the lower rent , non-corporate, “other mainstream” that laughs at the aspiring by making deprecating laughter part of the pleasure of aspiration itself. The people and places in Kurl up n Dye understand the operation of glamour’s contradiction in their lives, making use of the knife-edge between image and reality.
The importance of these “third places” will draw on Bourdieu’s study of taste in order to examine the irreverent nature of these type-styles and their deliberate disrespect for formal grammar and serious culture. Ultimately the importance of small things and their use of improvisation, humour and intimate contact needs to be seen and valued alongside the gigantic, spectacular, showy and corporate. They remain of compelling interest because the hair salon can be so much more than a place to get a haircut.
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