The Freedom Barbershop is located in a 60 year-old red, white and blue trailer on the campus of the Veterans Administration Greater Los Angeles Health Care System. My photographer friend, Norman Schwartz, took me there in March 2014 to meet the proprietor, who goes by the name Dreamer (aka Tony Bravo Esparza). On the day I met Dreamer, an unkempt Vet walked in. As he got his haircut I asked him about his situation. He told me he had recently gotten out of jail, was living on the VA campus and was to have his first job interview in a few days. I watched as his appearance was transformed and when the haircut was done I asked him how he felt. He said he felt “human again” and said, “I now feel like I belong.”
Dreamer is a veteran and a Native American, half Yaqui and half Apache. He has been cutting veterans’ hair on and off the VA Campus for over forty years. Dreamer gave up his storefront barbershop in a wealthy area of Los Angeles to move to his trailer that he had towed to the campus. Dreamer went from primarily serving the successful (including giving a haircut to Warren Buffett) to the vulnerable and homeless.
Dreamer lifts his customers’ spirits with his jokes, outrageous comments and his short, medium and very tall tales. More importantly, the barber’s touch has a comforting and calming effect on many of these veterans.
Once a month for three days, Dreamer cuts veterans hair for free. Most are living on the campus receiving help and look forward to the free haircut days. They line up early outside the trailer to put their names on a waiting list. Dreamer does free cuts for two days at the trailer and the third day he goes to Vets who cannot come to him; in the hospital, nursing homes and other wards on the VA campus.
Massimo and his family own I Cozzolino Frutta E Verdura, a fruit and vegetable stand and wholesale distributor in the Spanish Quarter. It has been in their family for five generations. I Cozzolino is a substantial operation and Massimo, his dad, his five brothers, children and employees work six days a week, 10 - 12 hours a day or more. I asked Massimo to allow me to photograph his operation and in exchange I would give him some pictures. I was allowed in the warehouses, watched as they filled orders. Massimo even sent me out on two delivery routes so I saw most of west Naples. The best part of this project is I now have a new friend in Napoli.
In October 2013 I had a desire to travel. I wanted to go to a place to meet and photograph people of a different culture. I thought of Naples and its reputation for narrow, crowded streets and wonderful food. Most people go to see its magnificent architecture and museums. I found my location in a travel guide that described the Quartieri Spagnoli (Spanish Quarter) as “densely populated and rather run down (tourist should take care when visiting the area).” It went on to say that “Alleys are festooned with laundry, shielding the streets from the light.” The streets are only about 10 feet wide. My neighbor, Gaetano, who was originally from Naples, confirmed the description. He also told me not to wear my watch or any jewelry. I knew I found a place to photograph.
Religious services are community events where participants gain a sense of togetherness from shared beliefs that I think is a very powerful motivation for the practice of faith. Within that paradigm, praying is normally a very intimate and private moment. People praying are often baring their souls. I have been trying to capture these moments for several years and thought Naples with its many Roman Catholic churches would provide a unique opportunity.