In Kirill Golovchenko’s series Bitter Honeydew, he photographed people who sell fruit and vegetables on the roadside in Ukraine. The road passes by the Black Sea, which means the fruit vendors have many tourists and holiday-makers as potential clients. When the work day ends, the sellers retire to their homes—temporary tents or caravans—which lie just 10 meters away from the road. The vendors come back to this spot every year and stay 3-4 months until moving on. Many come from Azerbaijan, Georgia, Armenia and mix with the locals in these strung-out, roadside markets.

Painting, Poetry & Honeydews

There are not too many market scenes in the history of painting which occur at night. Most artists prefer the broad daylight for capturing the abundant fruits of the earth and their debonair peddlers on canvas. But at least one example featuring more sombre scenery exists: a painting from 1630s, made by a female Parisian artist and genius of the still life genre named Louise Moillon. In this work something sinister comes into play: a pickpocket is stealing from a customer while she is examining the outspread merchandise. Thus, the night becomes a background and symbol for a certain atmosphere of danger and man’s darker tendencies.

In Kirill Golovchenko’s photographs of the 21st century roadside markets, we find a wide range of people living on the ‘tochka’, offering fruit according to season. The word ‘tochka’ is a general term for sales point—referring to anything from fruit to prostitution. Kirill Golovchenko’s pictures are as much about the night as they are about compassion for these uprooted men and women. In his own almost bitterly poetic words:

Do you think, life is sweet
when every car rushing by
makes you cough
and gnash your teeth?

When dust and dirt are
an ingredient of your food,
color it and get into your blood
thicken it to honey?

This wears you out:
always you lose against that delirious fatigue…
You try to dilute your blood with energy drinks by day
and at night with vodka.

But the holiday-makers won’t leave you alone.
They fly in their cars towards your light bulb
in the pitch dark, sucking out the little life
that is left in you, like hungry gnats.

The customers always know better
about the prices of your melons,
where they come from prices are always lower!
But still, they want to buy from you.

Past midnight you want to doze
and also keep an eye on your melons,
thieves are plenty. Gnats bite you a dozen times,
something which you should
have got used to by now.
Soon morning comes, calling to work again…

Can you imagine, now,
asking the vendor
if the melons taste sweet like honey?

—Horst Kloever & Kirill Golovchenko

Editor’s Note: Bitter Honeydew was the winner of the
European Publishers Award for Photography (EPAP) 2014. The book was published in Autumn 2014 by the five publishers in five languages.