(March 17–20, 2005)

The World Wide Panorama

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In the days leading up to the Equinox (which fell on March 20 for most parts of the world) photographers everywhere were invited to participate in another World Wide Panorama event. The theme for this event was Marketplace.

Theme Essay: Marketplace

The essay conveys the team’s idea of the event. It is usually published together with the Theme announcement and offers a starting point for the contributing photographers.


A marketplace is anywhere that people gather to exchange items of value. These items can be durable or perishable, tangible or theoretical. The marketplace itself can be built for that specific purpose, or traditional, or ephemeral.

European country towns usually have a market square, marked by a stone cross and sometimes by public scales, in use continuously since the middle ages. These often mark the center of town, the busy heart of the community, and many are still used for weekly markets. Covered markets were built for more continuous use and are found everywhere.

Many towns have farmers' markets one or more days a a week, set up on a temporarily closed street. These may provide not only fresh produce, but a splash of color and life to chilly northern streets on the March equinox.

Produce markets vary widely around the world and by season, since they reflect local conditions. You will find many kinds of chile peppers in Mexico, piles of kava roots in Fiji, durians in southeast Asia, dates in North Africa, live snakes in Hong Kong, seasonal fruits and flowers everywhere. Covered markets from the colonial era are features of cities from Tahiti to Haiti.

Wholesale produce markets operate early in the morning in every city, a world we seldom see but depend on for fresh fruit and vegetables. Many cities have similar markets just for cut flowers, others for fresh or frozen fish.

Marketplaces have a special sort of urban life to them and have been popular parts of plans for urban renewal. Boston's Quincy Market was an early example of this, San Francisco's Ferry Building a recent one. Pike Place Market in Seattle is one of the city's leading attractions.

There are famous markets in many cities: the French Market in New Orleans, Covent Garden in London, Les Halles in Paris, many of which now serve new functions. Middle eastern cities such as Marrakech and Aleppo have famous souks (suq). New York and Los Angeles have teeming Garment Districts where clothing is designed, manufactured, and sold both wholesale and retail. Tokyo has the Akihabara district specializing in electronics.

Some marketplaces deal purely in money - the great stock exchanges of New York, London, Paris and Tokyo, trading shares in companies. The Mercantile Exchange in Chicago specializes in commodity futures, trading goods that do not yet exist. Money markets set the exchange rates between currencies and the price of gold.

There are specialized marketplaces, such as the diamond trading districts of New York, London, and Amsterdam. There are tobacco auctions in the American South (though rapidly disappearing) and cattle auctions in the Midwest and West. Luxurious yachts are for sale in Miami and San Diego. Mobile homes are sold from lots at the edge of many American cities. Sometimes small conventional houses displaced by highway construction or urban renewal are sold in similar fashion.

Many cities have huge "flea markets", where anyone can sell anything, usually once a week in a huge parking lot. Portobello Road in London becomes a street market for antiques once a week. Less visible are "thieves markets" offering possibly stolen merchandise, bootleg music and video.

Tourist areas have markets specializing in the needs of visitors, cheap souvenirs and T-shirts along with distinctive locally produced items, such as handicrafts and artwork. Jewelry shops cluster around cruise ship terminals. Cruise ships, luxury hotels, and Las Vegas casinos have their own flashy shopping malls.

Bookstores are a specialized marketplace, ranging from vast stores such as Foyles in London and Powells in Portland, Oregon, to neighborhoods of tiny shops specializing in used books and collectors specialties, to booksellers along the Seine in Paris. Some bookstores are the very soul of a town, such as Codys and Moe's in Berkeley.

Every settlement has retail stores, ranging in scale from one-room country stores to endless malls. Despite their ubiquity, some are famous - the Hasegawa General Store in Hana on Maui, Hawaii, the vast West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta. Every major city has a "gourmet" grocery store - the one I shop at in Berkeley has over 500 items in the produce department and 124 types of olive oil. Jackson's of Piccadilly in London vies with Fortnum and Mason and the food halls at Harrods for the luxury trade there.

Individual shopping streets can also be famous, such as Rodeo Drive in Beverly Hills. Whole communities can be dominated by a particular commodity, such as art in tiny Carmel-by-the-Sea, California, with 121 galleries. The city of Taxco in Mexico has over 300 shops selling silverwork. Religious articles are sold along routes of pilgrimages and in holy cities, and sports-related merchandise at stadiums.

Finally there is the vast and shadowy on-line marketplace. Some parts are actual, such as the huge warehouse in Nevada, but most types of on-line commerce will be a challenge to photograph.

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