Fate crossover on the streets of Buenos Aires
In the icy tunnels of Catedral station on Buenos Aries subway Line D, 15 year-old Daiana begs as she nurses her four week-old baby, Santino. The girl is from the southeast town of Wilde in Greater Buenos Aries, where her mother is a paco, a cocaine paste addict. Here in the grubby, litter-strewn underground - somewhere between nihilism and invisibility and the rest of Argentine society - she sits and waits and hopes that someone, anyone, will help her out with a few pesos.
“I try to...tell the stories of people in pictures,” Photographer Adrian Markis says of his work, Mujeres En La Sombras ( Women In The Shadows), a set of powerful images featuring impoverished and vulnerable women living on the streets of Buenos Aries. “I think people judge without knowing, based on inadequate information and culturally ingrained, negative views about poverty and unemployment. Hopefully, these...stories will supply a visual context that evokes the cold, hard reality of their situations.”
Markis is right, poverty and unemployment are often attributed to some innate and, somehow, 'natural' flaw associated with the individual. But as he shows with his work (images and brief bios of the ladies) this a myopic, snap judgement, cheaply made. We don't live in an existential vacuum, and we fail our fellow human beings when we judge without knowing or understanding their stories. The photographer presents a visual, textual and circumstantial narrative which reinstates the human realities denied many of the poor, and undermines vacuous, ill-considered theories
“ A homeless woman is not in that position because she likes it,” Adrian Markis explains. “But because of a series of previous causes. Death of a husband, gender based violence, physical or mental illness, lack of a home, dignifying job prospects, ...family network.”
These images are powerful, poignant, angst-ridden portraits of those who are marginalised and living on the edge of Buenos Aries society : Paulina, Lola, Daiana, Silvia, Zulema, Johnana, Angela et al.
The capital of Argentina has a reputation for well-heeled academic institutions, fabulous theatres and magnificent museums. It is a city renowned for its warm and friendly people. But, as Adrian Markis points out, it is also a city that has become 'crime-ridden, expensive and overpopulated'.
His work takes us on a nightmare journey through the city's underbelly, the dark mirror of consumer society, reflecting grinding poverty, entrapment and vulnerability.
“I tend to gravitate to the more subterranean aspects of city life.” the 37 year-old admits. “It’s where my lens seems to be most at home. I especially enjoy taking pictures at night in dimly lit conditions. To me the city has many intriguing places and things, particularly the trains, the subways, the waterfront and their surroundings, the impoverished neighbourhoods, the people living in the streets…”
Markis' documentary style photography then becomes a social and historical document, grounded in a specific geographic location and politico-economic era.
“These images are obviously elements of society, that society itself does not like to see and cares little about,” he continues. “The women in these pictures live in situations of abject vulnerability, without any meaningful protection. That is why we need to expose their stories and pull them out from the shadows.”
Markis brings the stories of otherwise invisible women to public notice. His method is captivating and creative and multi-layered. There is a striking depth to his work and a style that leads the viewer into another, undeniable world.
Silvia, an emaciated 41 year-old homeless mother sits with three of her young malnourished children on cardboard outside McDonald's, Buenos Aries. Behind them, as if coming through the plate glass of the shop, we see the face of a man, grotesquely, about to bite into food. Grotesque, because it is juxtaposed with the terrible plight of the homeless, hungry mother and her starving children.
Look closer, reflected in the large glass front is the glizty office blocks of the Argentine city, an ironic symbol of global, free market capitalism. This lady has chosen to situate herself outside one of the great success stories of late capitalism, the US multi-chain McDonald's. Also reflected in the window, above the glass and concrete office block representation of capitalism are the white, puffy clouds and blue sky of the heavens. The heaven of Christ the saviour, a powerful icon in late capitalism and, in catholic Argentina. Rich or poor, hungry or well fed there will always be someone who believes that there will be a better life beyond the grave, and a just reward for the righteous.
There is a beautiful flow to this image, from the mother and her children to the about-to-eat man, the glass and concrete, the sky. It tells a story.
“They live in the shadows cast by a society that builds its values upon consumerism,” he tells me candidly about the women. “They are the system's trash, the one's left out, the forgotten, who deserve to live like this because they are poor. My goal is to raise awareness about the fact that a woman living in the streets in a state of vulnerability is not herself at fault. She is the victim of a failing system, that fails to protect the weakest in order to empower the strongest.”
Markis' genius is his eye for 'real', his vision and his creativity. His images are strong and solid and poignant. Their is a captivating jagged edge to his work that deserves a global platform – poverty does not just exist in Buenos Aries. He IS one of South America's top contemporary photographers. On evidence, who would argue?