Recovering from a holiday of excess, I want to be in austerity mode, but I can’t help being drawn to the almost comical sense of abundance in these images from photographer Alain Delorme’s Totems series. If you’ve spent any time in the developing world, you’ve seen that these laden bicyclists are the normal mode of transportation for all kinds of goods, and it’s a source of great delight to see how cleverly the operators pile their wares onto such delicate craft. I know this is hard work, and I don’t mean to romanticize their labor, but having seen many of these kinds of carriers in person, I’ve been consistently surprised by their apparent lack of struggle. Despite the top-heavy proportions of their loads, their balance seems remarkably effortless, and I find that looking at them evokes a sort of reverence for this almost magical skill.
On the DesignBoom blog, Andrea Chin writes:
The verticality of these formations echoes the incessant expansion of the urban area, constantly under construction. Here, De lorme gives a new vision full of humor and poetry of those porters – both super heroes and ants with impressive loads of tires, water containers, office chairs, flowers… Distanced from the typical photos of China portraying immense crowds, he has focused on the individuality of these workers, as opposed to all those identical and interchangeable objects.
While I can see the urban expansion metaphor and the emblematic reflection of the spread of materialism, it’s not the first place I go when I look at these images. For me, the reaction is much more emotional, and focuses more on the latter statement about the individuality and humanity of the workers. Unlike the numberless trucks that ferry goods around western cities, their facades obscuring their contents, each of these improvised structures is a unique composition, a transient artifact of human ingenuity. They’re less elegant than purpose-built cargo transports, but they have a kind of ramshackle beauty. Accidental sculptures, they remind me of the limitless nature of human assiduity, and the joy that lies in so many ordinary acts.
December 30th, 2010