By anyone’s first glance the Chaguanas market (Trinidad & Tobago) seems to be entirely about the goods and the services being offered. But there’s a force behind it all that makes it work. Without the people and the unique assortment of personalities the market would be just as lifeless and artificial as a computer-controlled Japanese vending machine. The people are the life of market; the hands, the voices, the faces.
I’ve been to the market routinely so many times that I’ve come to know the regulars quite well. Walking the market floors with a camera however, changes what I’m allowed to see and discover. While some people immediately dash and duck for cover at sight or even smell of a camera, most are open to the gesture and proudly tell their stories in the process of being shot (relax, its just a pun). I do love hearing them.
Its a deeply gratifying experience listening to them testify of the years they’ve spent dutifully and diligently doing their best to pay the bills and provide for their families.
The undeniable earnestness in their eyes never fails to conjure up a deep sense of appreciation within me. I feel fortunate to be the audience. It becomes clear as well that they do love telling their stories.
During the periods of school vacation some parents and grandparents work their stalls under the trained eyes of young supervisors. Its inspiring to see these kids get involved hands-on in laying out the goods and keeping them neat. You don’t dare mess up their arrangement. The kids I’ve had the pleasure of interactions with in the market are surprisingly capable of carrying on extended and mature conversations; they’re brave and seem generally well socialized. I may have spent close to 30 minutes chatting with Ishmael Bissessar (see photo below) about our respective homes and our shared love for riding bikes. Although I’m sure he was smart enough to guess it, I didn’t mention to him that its been years since I actually rode a bike. There was also Elissa. On the day of her ninth birthday I shot her, most comfortably tucked into into a box under her grandfather’s stall, feet kicked up, eyes locked on to her tablet most likely running the accounts for the stall’s balance sheet (I’m just guessing). Her sense of focus under that stall seemed intense.
The market sign-painter found me while I was chatting with Ishmael. Norman Maloney’s work is everywhere. I’ve been to the market so many times and yet I never gave a second thought to the signs and banners melded into the decor like urban camouflage. The “art” is to the market what salt is to food; in a proper dish you may never realize its there, but if you take it away you’ll certainly realize its missing. Norman has been painting the market’s messages in vivid and sometimes glittering colours for more than 15 years. He loves art and his customers loves his use of it.
The market runs on an exactly balanced blend of coffee, tea and Milo (the household-staple food drink of Trinidad). The young ladies whipping up the concoctions seem perpetually on the move stirring and serving the fuels which fire “the force”. To some extent the market seems to almost be a self-contained and sustaining ecosystem or community of sorts. There’s a service tucked away in every cramped cranny that fills a need for both sellers and buyers. On the upper level you’ll find the clothiers, tailors, seamstresses, cooks and kitchens; a myriad of cubbyholes housing hoards of haberdashery.
In Part I to this story I spoke about how my view of the market evolved. Its funny that I only learned to appreciate all of these things when I started following photography as my passion. I grew up making frequent trips to this hub of activity and never saw it the way I do now. I’m not sure whether its the process of aging or my search for “true-to-life” photography experiences that produced within me this new perspective of an old and familiar place. But I do look forward to re-discovering as many of those familiar raw native experiences as possible, and, as always, sharing them with you.
Note: All images of persons were shot and posted with the subject’s permission. Pictures of children were shot and posted with the permission of their parent/guardian.