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Short Stories

Written by // John Pitsakis

“Short Stories” is an attempt to capture the fluidity and diversity of street life in South America. In direct contrast to Europe and much of the Western world, people share an intimate and collective bond with the streets and public places. With the fragmentation of a day into working hours and free time not being as rigid, daily life is much less structured. Social and economic issues notwithstanding, there is an inherent openness to public life, and activities usually considered private are frequently carried out outdoors. Shot throughout parts of South America during 2010, the series is focused mostly on the multifaceted everyday life without being a strictly documentary project.

Mari is a musician with the Philharmonic Orchestra of Bahia in Brazil. In a month’s time she will play at the opening concert for the UN convention on crime in Salvador. Brazil’s President will be attending the event and the musicians will be introduced to him personally. It’ll be a big night for her. She and her friend have been practising daily on the steps of the oldest church in Pelourinho. They say they like playing in the open because it’s much more fun and rewarding and they get to meet friends, neighbours and passers-by. 

Whether in the busy, expanding urban sprawls or in the slow moving rural areas of South America, the private and the public spheres of life merge on the streets with uncanny frequency. People spend most of their day outdoors, they work and play, socialize and eat, party and rest in the open. They are more outgoing and expressive, less reserved and more inclusive. Shopping malls might be springing up in the big cities but most of the commerce is based in open-air markets or on the sidewalks. Public spaces and the streets are truly the commons; there’s a sense of community and openness evident in most facets of the daily life that would be considered private in the Western world. 

The climate of a region affects the lifestyle of its people, the culture and even the language. And the distinction between working hours and free time in a day is a relatively recent construct that ill-fits the ancient wholeness of a day. It could even be argued that social and economic issues play a big role in this. Nevertheless the South is an open world. It does not matter what time it is or what you’re after, where you come from or where you go to, chances are everything you need and most of what you do will be somewhere outside. All you have to do is step out into the open and the whole world is at your fingertips. 

And the same thing applies to this story. From the photographic point of view, this is not a project designed and researched from the outset. It could never be like that. The streets are in constant flow, alive and bustling. There’s life, raw and untamed and a project would only be restrictive, partial and illusory. The pattern is consistent and generous. There are short stories to be found in every corner, small nuggets of life to be deciphered and an endless supply of surprises, secrets and truth.

In fact this is how most of my photography works as well. There’s an African proverb that says “the foreigner sees only what he knows” and if photography is about asking questions and seeing behind the obvious, then what we think we know is an obstacle to seeing. And being a foreigner or a passer-by in life is not as strange a notion as it sounds. The fish-bone of the story is somewhere there and fleshing out the details is a gradual process in time.

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