Heidi Harf

ongoing personal project

Inspired by Irving Penn's street workers, I set out to photograph the informal workers in Cali, the same way I would photograph a commissioned portrait.

Almost half of Colombia's working population relies on the informal economy to obtain income. The first month of portraits, I set up a studio in an abandoned space in a residential area. The second month of this project, I was loaned a space in a factory in the center of the city. I would ask venders who walked by if they would be willing to sit for a portrait. I would reach out the the local guards, the dog walkers, the body guards, the gardeners if they would sit for a portrait. . Over a cup of coffee and a pandebono I asked them about their lives, their work and their faith.

I am embarrassed to say that more often than not I viewed these people on the street who approached me daily to buy their products or ask me for small change as a nuisance. My ex-husband referred to my hand outs to them as the "poverty tax," and I would laugh at his comment. After living here for so long, I became numb to their presence. However, after two months of photographing and speaking with them on an intimate level, all my prejudices dissolved. We are all human, we all have the same goals for our basic needs and we all want respect. We want to go home at night, sleep under a roof and have a meal. I heard their stories of abuse, violence, hunger, and pain. We all occupy this world and our goal should not be to have more wealth, but rather than how to make a better place for all, and we can start by respecting everyone we come in contact with.

I made them 5x7 prints of each portrait, which I gave them at the end of the week. That, was probably the best part of the entire project; to see their joy when they held their picture. Some even returned to tell me that they had framed their photo.

ongoing personal project