Made From Silver Dollars / #tbt 2020
In January 2020, when COVID was still a distant problem somewhere in Asia, I rode a #6 subway train from midtown to Astor Place for my last haircut ever at Astor Place Barber Stylists. After 30+ years of getting my head buzzed by the same barber “Scotty” at this iconic, multi-level, classic NYC barbershop — he looked like Albert Einstein with less hair, lived in the the Bronx, and kept a thick accent ever since his childhood arrival from Italy — I never imagined it would be the last time I’d see him. Had I known, maybe we’d have gone deeper than our usual cursory chatting about family, work, weather, and the perfect single espresso. Sadly, Astor Place Barber Stylists closed its doors permanently in 2020, another victim of the pandemic. I guess Scotty finally put down his scissors and retired…
When I arrived that day, hung my work knapsack on the usual hook, and prepared to take my seat in the chair, I noticed Scotty was talking to an interesting-looking older man. Without listening too closely, I could discern that he was an old customer (like me) and a retired professional photographer. He had a cool-creative-East-Village vibe — black boots, black jeans, black leather jacket, white shirt and a scarf — a bit less grunge-funky, a bit more stylish than many from Alphabet City. Must have been a good photographer and had a successful career from the sound of it, but what caught my interest was the six rings he wore.
His left hand had a simple, thick, obligatory gold wedding band. But his right hand had something else going on: each finger, including his thumb, had a thick SILVER band on it! My curiosity piqued, I had to ask him for the back-story of the rings; he grinned, and told me how it all began. Turns out that after retiring from his photography work, he started playing with metals and jewelry in his workshop, where he finally fashioned a US silver dollar into a ring for himself and was really happy with it. But his wife and friends LOVED it so much they all placed orders for silver dollar rings from his next batch! Over time, he ended up making a full set of five for himself, sized to each finger, inspiring appreciative comments wherever he goes.
I had a vintage Polaroid SPECTRA PRO SE instant camera in my work backpack, so I asked if I could photograph his hands. He agreed, and as he posed with hands on the back of a black vinyl chair in the waiting area, I noticed he had more metal up his sleeves. Each wrist had a silver bracelet: the one on his right looked handmade, perhaps made of two or three silver dollars, and the one on his left was a thick, silver, store-bought chain. Heavy metal…
Camera: Polaroid SPECTRA SE PRO (vintage)
Film: Polaroid SPECTRA Color instant film (new)
Photographer: Russ Murray (vintage)
Location: Astor Place, Manhattan, New York, NY
See you tomorrow!