This week, we launched In the Grey project produced in collaboration with the War on Want NGO documenting the informal economy workers in Zambia. Over the following weeks, I will be sharing selected stories and featured images on the blog, as well as tumblr journal, so stay tuned for updates and feel free to ask questions and suggest future topics for discussion in the comments.
At the launch event at Candid Arts on Thursday, I was asked to select my favourite photograph from the project. While this is an impossible task, since each images has a human story behind it and has its unique place within the broader context, one photograph came to mind because the experience of taking it changed my perception of the place once and people working there once and forever.
We interviewed Alice the previous evening, when she mentioned staying in the market overnight to save on travel costs. Having worked in Chisokone market for over a week, I was fascinated with its multi-functionality: the place to buy and sell a wide range of goods functioned as a city within the city, with it’s own canteen, toilet and shower facilities, rest area, prayer room, nursery and school. Alice’s story completed the picture, so we arranged to meet and photograph her in the market before work.
The taxi driver collecting me and my fixer at 4am the following morning was reluctant to go to the market at that hour, warning about safety issues, but we agreed this was an important story, so decided to take the risk.
A lively place by day, Chisokone market at the night hour resembles a horror movies set. Walking through the narrow corridors dimly lit by moonlight, the place appears empty to the eye, yet you hear voices conversing in a low whisper coming from every corner and this gets right under your skin.
Hundreds of people stay in the market over night, sleeping under mosquito nets on the porches of the market stalls. They navigate their way in the dark using mobile phone lights, so I borrowed the technique for the two portraits I took that morning.
Relatively safe during the day, the night market belongs to the ‘street boys’ – a local gang of a few dozen young men high on glue that run the place by their own rules and will. I went to the market with a fixer and insisted on the driver following us all the way, yet I didn’t feel safe for a moment, yet hundreds of Zambian women spend every night there alone.
The following morning headline of the local newspaper announced that a ritual killing took place in Chisokone market that night. I had three days until departure and no reason to return to the market when the sun was down, yet the thought of Alice and other men and women with no other place to go will remain with me.