Guillermo Srodek-Hart’s Stories on a Road Less Travelled
‘Stories’ is the result of ten years of off grid roaming by Guillermo Srodek-Hart in the remote backwaters of Argentina. This collection of photographs is an intriguing and evocative record of an often unrecorded, unvalued and disappearing world that is as fascinating from a social as artistic and interior design perspective.
Srodek-Hart has literally gone out of his way to celebrate the highly atmospheric interiors (and sometimes exteriors), of often one-man or woman operated workplaces in the one-horse towns of his native Argentina. They include bars, welders, grocers, rope-makers, pharmacists and shrines to pagan saints and legendary rodeo horses. Each one tells a story, some of which Srodek-Hart sensitively records with a compassionate inquisitiveness, like pithy and poignant nature notes on an expedition.
These are humble human tales of simple country folk and gauchos, many of them grown too old, with no one willing or able to continue the business, that often ends up demolished. Many of these transient endeavours began as a consequence of financial necessity and survival, a need to go straight, find respite from family life or beg long dead folk heroes to intercede for a change of fortune. The photographs tell stories of lifetimes of dedicated graft, of dreams and disappointments, of superstition, poverty and generosity. They provide telling insights into folk art and craft, folk religion and superstition; a disappearing world barely touched by modern globalised capitalism, the encroachments of which will soon wipe away many of these highly characterful spaces and replace them with anodyne chain stores in malls.
How ironic that as fast as we are tearing down these highly individualistic and unsung temples to folk art and craft, we recreate pastiches of what we have destroyed in every gentrified high street, as a cafe, bar, restaurant or fashion store (read our piece on Hostem). Our yearning for authenticity and nostalgia for the simple, natural, and homespun in an ever homogenous world, has led us down a futile path to regain lost innocence. Srodek-Hart’s work is a valuable snapshot of that authenticity and innocence from the lens of a compassionate but unsentimental recorder of stories.
Trecu Pharmacy 2013
I remember many years ago I walked into the Trecu pharmacy and took a picture from the customer’s point of view. The result was not particularly interesting, so I archived the negative. But seven years later, the Trecu pharmacy popped into my mind again. I felt there was more to it, so I drove back to the town of Vela to ask Luis, the owner, if he could show me the room behind the counter, and he did. Directly behind that wall I had initially photographed lay this amazing space.
Vela, Buenos Aires Province
Langueyú General Store 2013
This old store is located in what is known as a paraje. This means that there are not enough people living there to consider it a small town. The customers are all farm-workers who will buy the basics, have a drink, play pool, and socialise. Beatriz and her father ran the business until recently, when he passed away due to a pulmonary disease. Now it’s just her and she doesn’t know if she will be able to manage by herself.
Langueyú, Buenos Aires Province
El Zorro 2005
El Zorro was the best rodeo horse in Argentine history. His fame grew as he competed in the so-called jineteadas, mostly in the province of Buenos Aires. He would toss riders like rag dolls. In one sad episode, he accidentally killed one of them in front of hundreds of spectators. His fame grew even more. Zorro died when he was twenty-eight years old. The horse is a legend within gaucho circles and beyond. Omar Passarotti, the horse’ s owner, has commemorated Zorro’s life by building him a shrine in his dining room.
Cascallares, Buenos Aires Province
Difunta Correa Shrine 2010
Shrines for popular saints appear in random locations throughout the country. You can tell if it’s dedicated to the Difunta Correa because of the water-filled bottles that are left by her devotees. It begins with a few, then it slowly starts building until, at times, the shrine reaches unbelievable proportions.
Rte38, km 106, Córdoba Province
Leili Bike Shop 2010
Alberto Lind retired as a police officer and had to find something to do in his spare time, so he opened a bicycle repair shop. His family complains about how dirty the shop is, in part because the building is made of adobe. They want him to close and move to his garage. Alberto understands that part of his tranquility comes from the fact that he is not at home all the time.
Moisesville, Santa Fe Province
Cuatro Esquinas 2013
When Jorgentook over Cuatro Esquinas, he had no idea what he was getting into. Middle-aged and with no previous experience, his background as a florist in the city didn’t give him much hope. The hyperinflation of 1990’s Argentina left him with nothing, so he had no other option but to take over the establishment, located thirty kilometres from the nearest town, in a crossroad. The night before opening, while he was cleaning up and arranging the merchandise, he thought to himself that this was the biggest mistake of his life. But he was proven wrong. The next morning, Jorge woke up early and went to unlock the door and open the windows. What he saw perplexed him: there were dozens of gauchos waiting outside, ready to have an early drink, get some food, buy provisions, or simply to socialise.
Rte74 and Rte 30, near Tandil, Buenos Aires Province
Pelado’s Welding Shop 2013
I walked into an old car shop where two old men were chatting and drinking mate. After showing them my photographs, one of them asked me, “You’re looking for trash and disorder? You want a welding shop?” “Yes that would interest me” I replied. The old man told me to look for “El Pelado” and gave me directions. The town’s historic welder greeted me with a smile and had no problem with me taking a picture. There was hardly any space to put my tripod down and I had to move some metal scrap and other detritus in order to position myself behind the camera. In a strange balancing act, I managed to take the picture, or so I thought. Back in Buenos Aires, after processing and scanning, I realised that I had left part of the anvil out of the frame. In Roland Barthes’s terms, I had chopped off the punctum, the one object that held my attention over the rest. El Pelado scratched his scalp when, three weeks later, I showed up at his gate asking if I could take another picture.
25 de Mayo, Buenos Aires Province
GUILLERMO SRODEK-HART: STORIES
by Guillermo Srodek-Hart published by Prestel, RRP £40.00
Main Image: Bar Melón, 2014
Melon got its nickname because when he was a baby his head was the size of a melon. He told me a story about how a horse got accidentally shot at the bar. It happened one night when the local police officer dragged a man outside and tried to knock him out by hitting him on the back of the head with his revolver; a shot was fired, unfortunately killing the horse that was tied to the tree next to the entrance.
Del Carrill, Buenos Aires Province
© Guillermo Srodek-Hart, Courtesy Galerie Kuckei + Kuckei, Berlin
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