Tasmi Quazi & Richard Dobson
For AeT, the images portray strong and purposeful individuals engaged in informal livelihood strategies that enable them to support their dependents. Within the arts and media however, the challenge is striking a balance between reflecting the rigour and the positive attributes, of informality, such as the rich artistic environments they inhabit. In Warwick Junction for instance, there are examples of how creative infrastructure and responsive urban management strategies can contribute to more aesthetic and dignified work environments.
Mike van Heerden was drawn into the area, because like many locals, he had seen it transform dramatically over the years on frequent drive-bys. As he whimsically added:
“Pale people like me inherently fear to go into these areas because of the perception of crime but I wanted to see it in reality for myself…despite my initial trepidation, I was struck by how welcoming the community was and its level of self-governance which curbs crime at the street-level. Most people were friendly and happy to show off, and they did not want anything in return. I did not feel I was intruding as an outside observer, rather that I was documenting their lives…”
Therefore, the arts can contribute to validating a growing informal economy which is both a national and international urban phenomena, and celebrating amazing and new contexts in which they flourish – but without intruding into their working lives. Recognising the potential sensitivities, AeT attempts to secure individual participation and permission in the event that their lives and stories are shared.
The “Working in Warwick” Exhibition which has been displayed in various national and international contexts comprises a gallery of large-scale images capturing the working lives of informal traders of Warwick Junction. It was conceived as a way to reimage and celebrate the endemic energy and vibrancy of the local informal economy.
Subsequently, the growing photographic interest in the informal economy of Warwick Junction represents an open invitation to the broader public to engage experientially with these emerging urban environments. To date, in excess of 5500 people have experienced the Markets of Warwick. As Mike adds:
“…Affluent and ordinary people are not exposed to areas where informal activities are, largely because they hold such a negative perspective towards them. The arts can serve to paint the informal economy in a good light by sharing its attractive elements. This in turn will attract more tourists as consumers and bring in additional revenue for informal traders – and everyone benefits.”
If you’d like to view more photographic essays and blogs on the informal economy of Warwick Junction, click on some of the links below: