men at work pet sellers of istanbul, turkey. they engage passing tourists in con-versation,...

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  • 44 Communication World • September–October 2011

    I n my travels as a photogra- pher and tourist, I am often the target of a sales pitch. Tourism ultimately provides

    livelihoods. We carry home souvenirs—sombreros, jewelry, carpets, scarves, trinkets and talismans—reminding us of where we have been. No matter how hard we bargain, we invari- ably come out on the short end, yet we continue to come back for more. Instead of avoiding salespeople, I often photograph them. I photograph their pas- sion and boredom, their skill and craft, even the risks they take to make a sale. For most sellers, what they do is a matter of economic survival. Their work is more than just a job—it can define who they are. While all three of the following exam- ples relate to specific cultures, the points made by each of them are universal. They represent the

    nature of the game of salesman- ship itself.

    In my first example (right), young souvenir vendors work- ing on China’s Li River, near Guilin, attempt to sell their wares to the throngs of tourists on passing boats. Success is rare, and the physical risks are high. The big boats are in constant motion, and the fragile rafts that the vendors lash to the sides of the larger watercraft seem at risk as they are dragged through the treacherous currents. This photo is rich in incongruity—one does not normally find salespeople taking such risks for a few cents of profit. My image embraces three levels of activity: The fel- low at left appears to be casual and confident in his approach, the man with his back to us struggles to stabilize his raft, and the three dealers at far right energize the photo with their frantic gestures. The picture speaks of energy, entrepreneur- ship and risk.

    I made the second example (left) at the Hubbell Trading Post in Ganado, Arizona, which has served the Navajo Nation for more than 100 years. It became part of the U.S. National Park Service in 1967, and has been maintained as an active trading post ever since. Little has changed here over the years, except the goods on the shelves and their prices. We were graciously welcomed by this Navajo sales clerk—he offered

    us coffee and cookies and told us about the historic room where he works. While he was speak- ing to us, he placed his hand over his heart, a gesture of sin-

    photocritique by philip n. douglis, abc, iabc fellow

    Men at work In capturing salespeople in their daily efforts, we see the true meaning of livelihood

    A Navajo sales clerk at the historic Hubbell Trading Post

    expresses sincerity with a hand-on-heart gesture.

    CWSepOct_p044-045_ForPrep_CWNovDecp042-043 7/31/11 10:06 PM Page 44

  • cerity. This trading post has always been more than a store; it was the heart of the region’s Navajo community. Today it serves mostly tourists, but the

    locals still meet and greet one another here. The water- damaged wall dominating the background could symbolize the gradual erosion of the ancient

    Navajo culture itself. My final example

    (above) features the fiercely competitive car- pet sellers of Istanbul, Turkey. They engage passing tourists in con- versation, virtually beg- ging them to stop and haggle. Here, night has fallen, and customers are few and far between. I found these three salesmen “working the street” outside of their shop well into the evening. One rests on a window ledge, while the other two wait to pounce on prospects at the entrance. By mak- ing this image at night, I abstract much of the scene through back- lighting and am able to showcase the carpets as context. The dark mood also creates an atmosphere of loneli- ness and boredom.

    Retail sales are often a game of chance, and these men will stay here for as long as they think it will take to make the wait worth their while. ● Communication World • September–October 2011 45

    about the author Phil Douglis, ABC, directs The Douglis Visual Workshops, now

    in its 41st year of train- ing commu - nica tors in visual literacy. Douglis, an

    IABC Fellow, is the most widely known workshop leader and col - umnist on editorial photography for organizations. He offers all of his training programs as one-on- one tutorial workshops in digital imaging and photographic com- munication. These tutorials pro- vide flexibility in cost, length and content; extend from one to four days; and can be adjusted to cover everything from basic digital photography skills and photo- editing to photographic expres- sion. The tutorials are offered in Phoenix, Arizona, on dates con- venient for the participants. For registration information, email You can view Douglis’s multi-gallery cyberbook on expressive digital photogra- phy at

    Souvenir vendors on China’s Li River (left) take great risks to hawk their wares, while carpet sellers in Turkey (above) work into the evening despite the seemingly deserted street.

    CWSepOct_p044-045_ForPrep_CWNovDecp042-043 7/31/11 10:06 PM Page 45

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