Argentina’s Rural Stores Are a Fraying Link to the Past

In rural communities, local stores function as post offices, museums and social hubs. But they may not be around much longer.

by Guillermo Srodek-Hart
04 September 2015, 5:00am

El 91 Butcher Shop. All photos by Guillermo Srode-Khart.

Argentina is usually seen through the lens of Buenos Aires—their sophisticated and cosmopolitan capital city. But when Argentinian photographer Guillermo Srodek-Hart spent the past few years traveling the country, he found himself captivated by the more rural areas. Visiting countless small businesses, he observed how they weave a thread into the country's past. Local stores doubled as museums, post offices, workshops, butchers, bakeries, and bars. Many had been in the same families for generations, and served as the heart of individual histories.

In this series, he attempted to capture the past as it disappears to younger generations breaking with tradition and seeking life in the city. VICE caught up with Guillermo as he headed to the US to promote his new book, Stories.

Leili Bike Shop

VICE: What drew you the countryside in the first place?
Guillermo Srode-Khart: I've had a connection with the countryside since my childhood. My grandfather was involved in the wool business in Argentina, but I didn't take it seriously until I was in my early 20s and I'd moved to the US. I realized I was really interested in my country and I wanted to explore it. Slowly, these places symbolized the inner nerve of my identity.

Many of these places serve several practical roles—post office, store, meeting place—but what do they mean to the cultures they service?
These places are very complex. The owner of a store called Cuatro Esquinas [Four Corners] explained to me he knew everybody's names, problems, and would take care of everyone. It's also vital for people to socialize—these towns are very isolated. People go to the establishments to get together and talk about news, life, whatever.

Cuatro Esquinas also considers itself a museum. Given the long history of the place, the customers asked the owner to make it memorable and started giving him things, like a wild boar taxidermy head and so on. It's a museum made by the people.

Cuatro Esquinas

As you mentioned, many of these places are very isolated. How were you received when you arrived in each town?
Usually they were very welcoming because they didn't receive a lot of visitors or attention and the business wasn't going well. To have a "gringo" from the city come and ask about their lives and what they do, which is a vital part of their identity, really honored them.

So business is generally not going well for these stores?
These guys are trying to keep their businesses running, but it's difficult. Most of the time once the owner dies, the younger generations don't want to continue with the business because they can see the hardship of the job, and are just not interested in learning a trade or running a shop like that. For example, the woolworker told me his son is studying IT and when he visits he asks how he can live a life that makes him sick without economic reward. Still the carpenter—with a lot of sadness—understands these are different times and his son has a different life.

Colonna Wool Shop

Are they proud of their trades?
Yes, absolutely. I think there is no disconnection between their trade and their sense of being.

What effect do you think this project has had on you?
Because of this work I recently moved to a small town. I love the countryside. I miss it and I always want to come back. I was renting a house in Buenos Aires and I gave that up and rented a house in a small town six hours from the city. I felt I had to be closer to this world because I was so nurtured by it.

Interviewed by Laura Rodriguez Castro, follow her on Twitter.

Adelfa's Market

Bar Melón

Bar Bessonart

Casa Bolognani

Star Bakery

El Ombú Fodder Shop

Sol De Mayo General Store

García's Broom Making Shop