MELBOURNE, Australia — Cycling around the Melbourne suburb of Brunswick, I noticed a small shop entirely covered in photographs: the shop-front, the door, the lintel, everything. I stopped. Was it the work of someone with an obsessive-compulsive disorder? Was it some kind of art installation? When I met Vittorio, the proprietor, I learned that this was a work of self-portraiture on an incredible scale.
Little displays are not uncommon in these old-fashioned shops and bars, where the business is also a kind of second living room for the owner. Vittorio’s shop, however, elevates this notion of personalization: Every vertical space, inside and outside his shop was covered in photos, cards, newspaper and magazine clippings — but mostly photos, most of himself. Selfies, in today’s parlance.
Last year his shop was featured in an exhibition at Melbourne’s Immigration Museum, on the role local businesses play in migrant communities. Vittorio now has photos of that event up on his wall, of course. The interest of the Immigration Museum and his approaching retirement seems to have inspired him to put more photos up and create his current photographic installation.
Vittorio is 75 years old and has been working as a barber out of the same shop for over 50 years. He immigrated to Australia in 1959 from the Sicilian town of Bucheri. His wife was from Palazolo, Sicily, and together they have 12 grandchildren.
“All the photos have a story,” Vittorio tells me of the images.
I can see Vittorio’s whole life story on the walls of his barbershop. It is better than any photo album or scrapbook. There are photos of his travels around the world: “Honolulu is the best place to relax; it is paradise.” Locally he supports Carlton Football Club, internationally Italy, and in Forumla1 Ferrari. He is a fan of Ricky Martin and George Clooney.
“I like to show the people the good things,” Vittorio explained.
These days Vittorio just comes to the shop three days a week to hang out. There is only a single barber’s chair, no customers waiting, and he has plenty of time to talk to people like me. In the past it was different and he had three chairs and a lot more customers. I apologize anyway; I haven’t had a haircut since the early 1980s. But Vittorio doesn’t mind, he is enjoying his eccentric image and the tourists, actresses, and especially the local comedians that come into his shop just to talk, take photos, and make videos. He points out photographic documentation for all of these events.
We talk until one of Vittorio’s regular customers, or old friend — or both — arrives. I thank Vittorio and continue on my ride.