The Market in Albergheria

By Lisa Tilley|July 31, 2023|Uncategorized|0 comments

A morbid reminder of consumerism

Author: Tommaso Serra

All photos taken in 2023 © Tommaso Serra, Documentary Photographer London, UK

The second-hand market in Albergheria – a peripheral neighbourhood of Palermo’s historical centre – is a semi-informal market for trading and buying any sort of objects, from hammers and batteries, to ancient paintings and abandoned dolls. This market represents the last chance for a multitude of old and often faulty objects to remain in the Global North, in a city and a region (Palermo, Sicily) that politically, socially, and geographically can be seen as a final harbour of the Metropole. A harbour that is directly oriented towards the Global Periphery, where Western trash usually ends, far away from our eyes and memories.
A diverse population of Palermitani – natives and adopted – set up their square of space with an incredibly varied range of objects from different eras. The idiosyncratic pairing of these objects on the same square breaks time and space and lures you into a hallucinatory-like dive into the past. Every seller here is accumulating and selling whatever they can find, giving birth to an alternative purchasing option to the ultra rapid and expansive forms of modern consumerism.

Tolerated by the city’s institutions for its longstanding presence with 30 years of history, this horizontal activity employs hundreds of people. It emerged through informality as an economic opportunity created by the lack of jobs for people living in the most marginalised fringes of the city. Now, the council has decided to advance a plan to institutionalise the trading activities, though the process could be turbulent. In fact, not all the locals are happy with the presence of the market in front of their doorsteps.
Furthermore, some of the sellers could lose their job due to the bureaucratic language of the legal normative process.

It was hard to believe that any of those stalls could have demand. I could not possibly believe that one single, old, used shinpad could attract a customer, and that was when I realised that I knew nothing about this neighbourhood and its market. A dynamic series of trade and haggling takes place between sellers and sellers, customers and sellers, and eventually with some captivated tourists who got lost, all under a burning sun that makes the ensemble of objects even more surreal. A group of men (in their 30s – 70s) stay in a close circle looking at their stuff from time to time. It appears that everyone knows each other in this market and that some people prefer to spend time with some rather than others.
This is the case of M., who explains how the market has changed in the last 30 years whilst he is trying to sell an old torch with no batteries to another seller from North African origins. He argues that the market is no longer profitable “because of people like them” pointing at the other seller. He argues that now there is too much competition, whilst before it was only for a selected circle, and it was “good money”.
Inside San Severio, a church of Albergheria, Lorenzo, a voluntary of the beautiful church explains his frustration to me. The incredible interiors of the building are falling apart, and some tape has been used to keep parts of the baroque column decorations together. Lorenzo is disappointed about the state in which the church is hanging, but even more, he is furious about the “second hand market” of Albergheria that resides just in front of the church. “Don’t you know!?” he asks me ironically? “Everything you see there is stolen”. For this reason, whatever is not sold on the day gets thrown in the street, he explains. And on the moment, I make sense of all the trash that is present in the neighbourhood at night. But then I ask myself, “who in the world would steal a single shinpad, or an electric toothbrush?”

Some objects might well be stolen like pieces of furniture and old paintings, but that is a minimal part of the market. The real protagonist is the absurd composition of eras of plastic and outdated technologies now incompatible with our world that moves too fast for DVDs, tapes, or floppies.
This market encapsulates many themes that are relevant for the outskirts of today’s cities in the Global North. Consumerism, inequality, informality, and migrant’s integration are all clearly visible in Albergheria, but they unfold in the unique context of Palermo, with its unique socio-historical reality. Here, it is still prevalent a strong sense of community in the neighbourhoods, and despite some tensions, the impression is to be witnessing an organic and spontaneous welcoming of non-natives communities.
Living for a month and a half in Albergheria I had the privilege to be welcomed by some of the residents, who reminded me what it means to live in a communitarian space rather than in an individualistic society. This project wants to depict both a morbid manifestation of consumerism through the photos of the market stalls, but it also wants to offer a window on the life of the people that live the neighbourhood every day, all through an analogue aesthetic of a camera that is as old as this market.

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