Porta Portese Flea Market, Rome (Italy)
“They are there, as monuments of Rome, with a very short time, they hear and see everything.”
Born in 1945 as a flea market, Porta Portese is today the most famous and popular non-food market in Rome. Located in the heart of the Italian capital, it still keeps on Sunday morning and despite the abandonment and degradation of the area, locals and tourists spend hours searching for the day’s deal.
Chaos, voices, and colors absorb you totally. It is not uncommon to find foreigners and nuns who buy everything, as well as beggars and pickpockets. But Porta Portese must be breathed and lived up to comprehend it.
Every Sunday, for a while, I took my camera and threw myself in the middle of the most famous Roman market. I tried to get into the social substratum by creating relationships with historical characters and photographing the less propitious ones, looking for a natural involvement. The result is a set of portraits full of color and emotions that these characters naturally emanated.
From Anna the “queen of the stall” to Marcello the great Leica brand estimator, who tries to sell vintage items to the best bidder, passing for Franco who used to walk barefoot on the hot summer Roman asphalt preaching his personal faith to his customers.
Italy dedicates songs, poems, movies to this market (from ‘Bicycle Thieves’ to ‘Sciuscià’). In Porta Portese there aren’t fruit and vegetable benches, but you can find a stall with only toy helicopters and another one with only shells, beads of all shapes and colors, tiles with strangest designs, watch cases that do not exist more and fossils.
You can really find everything: furniture and objects of all ages of course, real fleas, but also linen for house and people, used and new clothes, vinyls and CDs, books and prints, historical newspapers but also Rome soccer team shirts and underwear, dogs and cats food and wool and cotton craps (depending on seasons), watches and shoes, shells and jewelry, leather jackets and suitcases, beads and toys. And the list may be infinite.
The project was born spontaneously, starting from street photography walks that have quickly become too similar to each other, beginning to approach occasionally Italian and foreign characters behind their stalls, ending with a more systematic and targeted approach to bringing anecdotes and stories home of the most historic people in the market.
From Bangladesh, 43 years old and from 23 in Italy. Until 2004 he saw Italy as the new America, but with the entry into United Europe he tasted its decline and is waiting for Italian citizenship to move up to England next year, sure to find all the doors opened with our citizenship. He jokes on his physical appearance: he’s not so tall and says he looks younger for this. And so it is true of the women of his town too.
The day of Santa Cecilia more than any other day, he likes to play with his band. He plays dishes, an instrument he learned when he was a child because the mother forced him to have free teaching lessons instead of consuming the only pair of good shoes he could afford at that time playing everyday with other children.
Also knows as “U ‘Bersagliere” (sorry, really untranslatable). He has one of the few stalls selling food in this market. Very dodgy, I took months to approach him but in the end he let me do my work and when I returned him the prints, besides the shouts of joy and grips of his wife and daughter, he wanted to homage me with some typical food from south of Italy.
The queen of the stall, noticed while I was walking around the narrow alleyways of the new market, she was shaking up her arms giving orders to her employees. I quickly took my Leica and brought it to my eye, keeping the other one fixed on her ready to press the shutter button and, as soon as she saw me, I asked her “Can I take a picture of you?” She smiled at me, settled on his throne and accepted.
This picture was published by National Geographic and I received honored mentions and congratulations from three magazine’s editors.
He lives in Campo De Fiori area of Rome (a historic place) but has been in Porta Portese for 20 years now. He is teased by all his friends and colleagues because of his abundant buttocks overflowing out from the saddle of his old Vespa. He never managed to take a license for the job place he occupied and was angry with foreigners who were successful.
The first encounter with Marcello was certainly particular: as I walked back home I felt called myself. Or rather my camera was noticed:“Leica! Take a picture of me with that Leica!” I turned my head and saw him under a big hat with those eyes telling me the emotions of a whole life: “At my time there were only Leica and Hasselblad as the queens of photography. They have changed the way we actually shoot!” I really agree with him.
She is one of the most adorable women in the market. You could talk for hours with her about how the market scene has changed over the years and, if you’re not careful, she really does it for hours! She hates the rudeness that people often show her and nomad people who often try to steal something from her stall every Sunday. She attend this market since it opened in the far 1945 (70 years): she practically grew there. She is actually 80 years old, 16 surgeries to one leg and start to work from 4:00 am every sunday and attend other markets around Rome area on Saturday. Really unstoppable.
A true artisan who produce handmade necklaces and earrings, has a stall for about fifteen years with her husband and her dog called “Perno”. The dog is an intersection with a spinone canine breed and it seems to be the real owner of the business.
Also called Franco, was certainly one of the most difficult characters to approach. I noticed him for the first time in the summer, while he was walking barefoot on the hot Roman asphalt. Dressed only with Indian clothes and, unlike her rude looks, he is a very nice man. But to succeed in photographing it, there have been many attempts to approach it in more and more weeks. I remember we start talking about good vibes and energy vampires, the kind of people who suck every vital force even just standing around you.
The last time I met him, he pulled out an old film camera from the 1960s and confided to me that he would bring it with him now in November, as he returned to India (Goa), until next May. He is the clear example of how perseverance and visual contact repeated over time can be effective in photography. He’s now accustomed to my presence. Many times I went by asking him for a picture, but I felt that that right feeling was lacking… then talking about good vibes, positive thinking and India, I found the right channel to bring back home a few pictures.
Ex non-commissioned officer who left army because he couldn’t handle orders from other people. He’s 62 years old, play martial arts and says he’s eating very little to keep his body in shape. He recently met with his ex colleagues from army and said to me he was disgusted by how battered they were: old, cuddled, with dandruff on their shoulders. For 30 years he is in Porta Portese as a secondary job because is a talented sculptor and married with an artist like him, but his true passion is his dog “Pippo”, a so much spoiled pincher that Angelo regularly go to Germany specifically to get tennis single-used balls, which sell at 10 euro for about 200 pieces.
He sells prints and loves cinema. Accommodating and kind, but not easy to photograph. I was able to snatch the first shot by placing him with his favorite photo, continuing with more confidence in the times to follow up to the pre-Christmas time.
Directly from mother Russia, he sells only Russian articles. Often to the limit of ridicule. An important collection of film cameras, of course straight from the ex Soviet Union, jerseys, brooches, accessories that recall communism and his land. And not so cheap at all!
For me, the real king of the market. Gentle, sweet and easy going, accompanied by a wife from Eastern Europe who is definitely older than him and with a really bad character. Try to keep him away from getting in touch with me every time I’ve approached this man during the last months, but maybe he’s the first one who likes to be photographed and never forget the prints I gave him.