EXCLUSIVE

Mentoring teens: Charles Lomu’s barbershop the focus of Harold David exhibition

In a small garage in Sydney's western suburb of Blacktown, self-taught barber Charles Lomu is working to keep men out of trouble and off the streets.

As a young person Lomu – now 39 – fell into crime after a promising start in NRL as a reserve for the Roosters.

Charles Lomu's modest garage barbershop is the subject of an upcoming photo exhibition. <cite>Photo: Harold David</cite>
Charles Lomu's modest garage barbershop is the subject of an upcoming photo exhibition. Photo: Harold David

"I got into break and entering, car theft, assault and robbery then went on to heavy drinking and struggled with alcohol and got myself locked up", Lomu told Fairfax Media. "When I got out I had to have a sit-down and reflect what was going on in my life."

Lomu, who had been cutting his friends' hair since he was 16, realised barbering was an untapped passion.

"I was always cutting hair right from High School but never once thought it was a career … then I worked on it and it became my job and put me on a good path. I thought this is great, I can use this to help educate other young men about responsibility, respect and manhood."

So Lomu set up a garage barbershop to help young people avoid the mistakes he had made growing up.

Lomu's modest garage barbershop is the subject of an upcoming photo exhibition by fashion photographer Harold David, which traces the barber's mentorship of five young men over a 10-week period.

"David's portraits showcase the impact that a good haircut can have, the feeling of confidence the transformation externally and internally. Being well-groomed can be transformative for these young people … it's about dignity," Lomu said.

Documenting the barbershop was an experience David won't forget. "Charles and his boys are larger-than-life characters. I knew I had to take a back seat and do my job as they presented the most profound moments of my career," David said.

For Lomu, mentoring youth is about saving lives.

"This project is about instilling a work ethic in these young men and making them realise if they have a dream and they go out and fight for it they can succeed, they don't need to do stupid things to make a name for themselves. They just need to have someone believing in them."

Garage Barbershop will be on show at Blacktown Arts Centre from May 11 -June 3. Visitors can make an appointment for a cut by Lomu and his five mentees each Thursday during the exhibition at a pop-up barbershop at the Centre.