Documentary photography of La Salada Market

Opening the Door to La Salada

This market has a particular power: the power to evoke images. Even for the people who have never been to La Salada, the name alone gives rise to feelings often of fear, sometimes of anger, occasionally of curiosity. It is the power of a border: an invisible wall that divides the outside from the inside. Two worlds divided by an intangible line. From the outside looking in, the images are of young gangsters committing murder, out-of-control policemen and incredible amounts of money earned through illegal activities. Seen from the inside, the outside world is a place populated by better-dressed, better-educated people. The economy of the Inside expands, reaching homes in distant regions. The Outside complains about it. Though the barrier is still present, we aim to pierce through to the other side, using our project to allow the two worlds to interact, if only briefly.

This joint enterprise between a photographer and a sociologist returns to the fundamental process of observation, a classic device in both social science methodology and documentary photography. We do not conceive observation as a way of knowing, but as a way of understanding a set of meanings within a particular setting. To understand means to see through the eyes of the people we spent months getting to know. Our broad concept of observation consists of a combination of photos, field notes, participation and different texts, all of which help to pierce through the barrier. Thus, our initial intention was modest: an attempt to show La Salada from the point of view of its actors.

If the intentions and plans that we hatched over a cold German winter were rather simple, putting them into practice was anything but. Such projects need time; a lot of time. The days and months people need to build bonds of trust, to get close to someone without fear of being deceived. But also time for us to adapt to the activities of others, especially to the entrepreneurs, forever busy sewing or selecting fabric. Time was, therefore, one of our most important assets in getting closer to people´s everyday activities.

In browsing the photos on this site, visitors will notice that the main focus is not on poverty. Not because it does not exist throughout the market or because people in this area do not suffer from rare diseases, drug dependency, lack of opportunity or any of the other hardships associated with poverty, because all these things are present. But our focus is on the other side of the coin, the life fuelled by the search for opportunity, by the desire to change a hard life story, or by the wish to avoid ever being caught up in an economic crisis again. This huge market has a life built on various sets of strategies worthy of our attention: entrepreneurs, storage owners, cart pullers, managers, private security, buyers and so forth. So it is the inner life of La Salada market that was our main focus and the criteria for the portfolio's structure. We present images and text as a way to bring our visitors closer to a unique market.

At the end of the journey we still do not know whether La Salada is Latin America’s biggest illegal market and we cannot confirm with any accuracy its exact sales and revenues figures, a topic that always gains the attention of the media and is discussed over and over. Instead, we show more interesting things, the unquantifiable things. We show the lives of the people working in their various jobs in La Salada. We present their lives and experiences, the policemen and street vendors, cart-pullers and storage owners, administrators and sellers. We were in their houses and their sweatshops, and attended their religious festivals. We show that La Salada is not just a “fair”, but rather a huge market for garments, a supplier to the whole of Argentina and neighbouring countries, too. We show it all through our photographs.

Our images are of people working hard in a precarious environment, people talking, bargaining and buying. People moving from stall to stall. Sometimes they feel unsafe; sometimes they are robbed. They find the right designs, the right colours and the right prices for the products they will resell elsewhere. They learn how to be part of La Salada in their own way.
La Salada is many things: it is a movement, agreements between people, hierarchies, unwritten rules and access to goods, a place where some thrive and others suffer. To bring all of these elements into the open and to understand them is the purpose of our project.

Using Format