When I was a kid, going to the market on Saturday morning with my mom was an unavoidable terror. The market sold things that came out of the ground. Not useful clean things like crude oil and natural gas; dirty things like sweet potatoes, yam and eddoes. The market floor was dark and perpetually wet. The market was noisy, people shouted. It had it’s own distinct “market smell” which usually had strong and clear references to raw fish, poultry, and rotting vegetables.
There was clutter and congestion. Before entering the market I’d be sure to take careful note of what my mother was wearing in order to make it easier to find her if I got lost. She was very much like a ninja in the midst of all of it, navigating the aisles with a sense of speed and direction akin to a lioness on the hunt; grabbing a bargain on tomatoes here, sweet peppers a few stalls down, prices too high here, remembering the guy down the side walk who had it cheaper. I usually couldn’t wait to get out of the grimy, noisy, disorderly convulsion of bodies and vegetables. I found reprieve in the neatly ordered, air-conditioned, white-tiled floors of the supermarket. There I commanded a shopping cart which I jockeyed with precision and grace over smooth well-lit aisles. Things were in bottles and packets, not heaped raw in shapeless piles and fondled with bare hands. The dignified and sophisticated “beep” of the barcode scanner was music to ears tired of the deafening clutter of shouts common in the market. No wonder they called this place a “super” market. In the untrained eyes of a squeamish child it lived up to its title in every way.
I can’t remember when specifically it happened but somewhere between being a kid and being an adult, I grew up. The process itself was rather quick and painless as far as I can remember. And, as I grew taller I suspect my perspective changed. I grew to see the things I’ve tried to capture in my photographs of this place. The colour. The stupendous array of fruits, vegetables, tubers, spices, meats and decorative plants all in different stages of maturity naturally displayed an infinite range of colours. The movement of bodies through packed aisles was not as mindless and anarchic as I once thought it. These moving masses were the bustle of bodies about the business of keeping life going for themselves and their families. Vendors were selling, people were buying. This was all about food. They were all there for the same ultimate reason, survival. It’s strange and somewhat sad that I only came to appreciate what the market meant after getting behind the lens.
Then there was the sound (not captured very well in photographs… yet). Vendors had to get their messages across and “word of shout” advertising was the most effective medium in a crowd this size. No sound amplifying electronics necessary; you’d be amazed at the decibel output of deceivingly diminutive bodies. Word of shout experts fired their chimes and rhymes with unmistakable clarity; “celery three for ten allyuh”, “cucumbers picked fresh from the neighbour garden this morning”, “nice chive! three for five!”. And then, topping it all off, “barrow coming through, watch allyuh foot family”. The barrow-man shuffled a cart loaded to impossible heights through the dense Saturday morning crowd to replenish the stalls as quickly as they sold.
Eventually, the supermarket became a bore for me. It was too clean, too perfect and too ordered. There was no action, no striving, no story. Yes, the supermarket sold food as well. But not with the hyper-competitive sense of urgency and passion found in the market. There was no atmosphere. The market has a sense of industry which overshadows possibly even the NYMEX. Trading begins at the most unrighteous hours of the morning and stretches into the evening lag when goods finally stop flowing. On a Saturday morning where both the market and the supermarket are part of my errands run, the market is now the adventure and the supermarket is the aftermath, the lull.
Perspectives are prone to change as we grow older. What was once a chore for me became a visual feast brimming with potential for great images and stories. Part I of this post merely tickles the surface of what I mean to present. There’s more to come since there’s so much more to shoot and write. For now, do enjoy the images posted below (also uploaded to the gallery). I’ve also taken the trouble to upload a short sound clip (bottom of the page) recorded live in the Chaguanas market itself. See if you can make sense of it, but, as you get those headphones plugged in, don’t forget to just immerse yourself into what sounds like a tumult and soak it all in. Have fun!